This is a guest post by Lucy Reese, mother of Angus (6), Stanley (2) and Max (6 months)
A few years ago, like all good New Labour voters, I was obviously all for public services, but other than the bins and the NHS had very little need for them. Then I had kids. And everything changed.
I’d always worked and was determined to do so after I had kids. My job as a TV producer paid quite well, but even so forking out nearly £400 a week in childcare – for a fairly bog standard private nursery – was pretty eye-watering. It was much more than my mortgage.
By the time my lovely son was two and a half I knew I couldn’t carry on working the hours I did without going completely bat-shit mental. A ghastly programme about The Spice Girls was the tipping point. I had no work life balance and had to change the way I worked.
Fortunately, by this time my son had moved to a brilliant council run nursery called Caversham Children’s Centre, in Kentish Town, North London. I loved everything about it and it was affordable – the fees were about half what we’d been paying before. It gave me the breathing space to work out how I could change direction. I found I could do some TV stuff from home and also began to pick up work in F.E colleges, which I loved. I had another baby, started a PGCE and got more hours in the college. Throughout all these changes the nursery was a constant – our second boy went there too.
Since both my husband and I are self employed – he makes websites – we can’t afford to turn down work just because it doesn’t fit in with school holidays. I got work teaching summer schools so we started using the brilliant holiday play schemes run out of Camden Square Playcentre. It may sound cheesy, but these services are like extended family for millions of people like us. We can’t plead abject poverty, but to keep working, we need good quality affordable childcare. We want to spend some time with our kids and provide them with emotional security – we just couldn’t do this and pay private sector childcare fees.
Fast forward to the 2010 election. THEY got in and I remember saying to my husband that I reckoned the nursery and the playcentre would be for the chop. People like Cameron have never needed public services and think only lazy scroungers use them. By the end of 2010, it was announced that the playcentre would close in 2012 – then we found out in January of this year that the nursery would be closing in August.
When I got the letter about the nursery closing I burst into tears. Pregnant and hormonal, I just couldn’t handle the news. But I refused to go down without a fight. Fortunately all the other parents felt the same and to cut a long story short we worked together and although the nursery did close in August, it has recently reopened as the Caversham Community Nursery after we convinced the council to transfer management to a local community association.
The campaign was draining and involved dozens of meetings, hassling local councillors, standing in the street outside the Co-op and making a series of deputations to Camden Council. I gave birth in the middle of the campaign – baby Max has been to more council meetings than you could care to mention, both in and out of the womb.
So why did the campaign work? First off, we decided to work with our local Labour councillors, rather than harangue them for closing the nursery. We also pooled our skills. One of our group was a management consultant and produced an amazing business plan. Another mother is a PA and a brilliant organizer – with access to free printing facilties for leaflets! I used my contacts in local politics and media and gave the campaign focus with a Facebook group. The group’s leader, another TV producer, created amazingly convincing documents and sat up till the early hours refining our deputations to the council. It was bloody hard work but it paid off and though the process was at times frustrating, it was also incredibly empowering and shows what can be done if you work collectively. It made me understand the importance of local government and the experience has made me keen to stand as a local councillor – something that previously would have had about as much appeal as drinking a bucket of cold sick.
I’m now back on the campaign trail again and have started an action group to save Camden Square Playcentre – yes, it is just down the road from the Amy shrine. This is a truly amazing place that provides holiday play schemes, after school clubs, breakfast clubs and under 5s drop ins. Black kids play with white kids, posh kids play with poor kids and disabled kids play with able bodied kids. The brilliant staff are trained in everything from child protection to child psychology – the idea that they could be replaced by some “Big Society” volunteers is frankly insulting. The playcentre keeps single parents off benefits and keeps stay at home mums with toddlers sane. It gives boisterous six year old boys somewhere to let off steam after school and kids in wheelchairs the chance to make friends with kids from mainstream schools. If this sounds like utopian bullshit, sorry, but it’s the kind of service that actually makes the world a better place.
We’ve had our first meeting and are hopeful that there is a chance that we can do what we did with the nursery and get a voluntary sector provider to take over the running of the service.
Please sign our petition – http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-camden-square-playcentre.html – we still need all the help we can get. Thank you for reading.