Children’s centres could close across Lewes and Wealden districts

Seaford's children's centre, based at Cradle Hill School, could be one of 14 in East Sussex to close
Seaford's children's centre, based at Cradle Hill School, could be one of 14 in East Sussex to close

Children’s centres in Ringmer, Newhaven, Crowborough, Seaford, Chailey and Heathfield could be closed with services relocated elsewhere as part of cost-cutting proposals.

East Sussex County Council has agreed to consult the public on its draft children’s services early help strategy for ten weeks from May to July.

As a result of the strategy £2.6m would be saved from the council’s early help budget by 2020/21.

Access to services would happen through a single point of advice and delivered in family homes and through a reduced network of 12 children’s centres and four youth centres as well as community venues where appropriate.

But as part of the draft proposals 14 children’s centres would close including those based in Rignmer, Off Harrisons Lane, in Newhaven based in Denton Island Community Centre, in Crowborough based at Beacon Academy Sixth Form, in Heathfield based at the Heathfield Community Centre, in Seaford based in Cradle Hill Community Primary School and in Chailey at Chailey School.

The Heathfield children’s centre would relocate to Heathfield Youth Centre.

These locations are seen as ‘less suitable for future services’. In all the places families would continue to receive keywork services in their homes and from nearby keywork hubs.

Family support services would also continue to be provided in these communities, nearby children’s centres, council or community buildings.

The council will seek expressions of interest from other organisations in a position to take over any of these 14 children’s centres.

But if this is not forthcoming the proposal is for these centres to close.

The strategy would also withdraw funding for ‘lower level preventative services’ to focus on the most vulnerable families, reducing management and admin support in the remaining children’s centres.

There would be a reduction in the crèche offer within children’s centres and withdrawing from open access non-targeted youth groups unless external funding is available to cover the full costs.

Three of these youth groups are in Lewes and four are in Wealden.

According to an officers’ report: “Children’s centres are as much about making appropriate integrated services available as about providing premises in particular geographical areas, however, councils should ensure that children’s centres and their services are within reasonable reach of all families with young children in urban and rural areas, taking into account distance and availability of transport.

“The guidance also provides that councils should not close an existing children’s centre site unless they can demonstrate that, where they decide to close a children’s centre site, the outcomes for children, particularly the most disadvantaged, would not be adversely affected and that the starting point should therefore be a presumption against closure.”

Children’s centres would remain open in Lewes, Peacehaven, Hailsham and Uckfield.

The lead member for children and families agreed to put the early help strategy out for consultation at a meeting yesterday (Monday May 20).