Parents fight to stop Hunslet nursery closures

Parents, carers and children held a small but lively demonstration in Hunslet on Saturday (4 May 2024) protesting about the threatened closure of two council-run Little Owls nurseries.

The group marched from Hunslet Rylestone nursery of Whitfield Avenue to Hunslet St Mary’s nursery located at Hunslet St Mary’s Primary School off Church Street.

Donna Waddington said she was “devastated” when she heard that Little Owls at St Mary’s might close. Her son has had speech problems since he was two.

“We were told he was going to be non-verbal,” she explained. “But through speech therapy and thanks to all the staff at Little Owls, who have been amazing, they’ve helped him with his speech through one-to-one sessions, he’s really come on and he’s got more confidence.”

If the school take over the nursery she’s concerned that there won’t be wraparound (8am-5pm) care as both she and her husband work full time.

Another parent, Emily Webster-Day, commented:

“The staff have cared for all 7 of my children as if they were at home and really helped to sculpt them with confidence to be ready for their next step in life. If Little Owls were to close or go private the high quality of care would disappear. Kids would fall through the cracks the without the knowledgeable and experienced staff I feel our next generation will not get the same high standards my children have received.”

Parents criticised the consultation process which relied on virtual meetings over Zoom which clashed with children’s bedtimes and which several parents said they were unable to join because of technical issues.

Organisers said the council shouldn’t be closing nurseries when there is a shortage of nursery places and called on it to fight together for more funds from the government. They criticised the current council budget which includes adding £3 million (more than the nursery closures will save) to reserves ‘for a rainy day’ saying this is the rainy day. They pointed out that it is highly likely we will have a Labour government by the end of the year who the council can work with to reverse the funding cuts.

None of the ward councillors attended the event, but in a statement, Cllr Ed Carlisle (Green, Hunslet & Riverside) said:

“Thanks and credit to all those raised their voices about the excellent Little Owls nurseries: these are certainly worth fighting for. We have to recognise the wider context: brutal ongoing cuts from national government are forcing councils everywhere to choose between bad options.  But all is not lost: we (the Council) are above all looking to work with quality local partners like charities and schools to keep them open. We’re specifically talking with credible local organisations about taking on the local Little Owls nurseries here – and if it comes off, local families will with luck not even notice the change. If we can’t find partners to take them on, my Green colleagues and I will be keen to work with campaigners to keep them open under ongoing Council management.”

Cllr Paul Wray (Labour, Hunslet & Riverside) commented:

“The Little Owls nurseries provide a valuable service to many families and no Council wishes to be in the position that Leeds currently is, but with the service losing around £2million per year due to underfunding from government “free” hours, there is no choice but to look at the services sustainability so we can balance the overall budget and protected services such as Childrens and Adults Social Care, a service which now accounts for 68% of the Council’s budget.

“Nothing has yet been decided but should there be interest from third parties in some or all the sites, then this still doesn’t mean they will be transferred unless the Council is happy with the organisation in question.”

Find more information about the campaign to save Little Owls nurseries on Facebook here.


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