MP’s comments on children’s centres ‘ignorant’

15:54 19 October 2011

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PARENTS at a Stotfold children’s centre yesterday (Tuesday) criticised “ignorant” comments made by MP Nadine Dorries, which called to shut down centres across Central Bedfordshire.

Red Bear Children’s Centre, which is based within St Mary’s Lower School, Stotfold, called the meeting on Tuesday after reading comments made by Ms Dorries in last week’s Comet.

The Mid Bedfordshire MP has backed a Central Bedfordshire Council consultation which could see up to 17 centres in the district close. Among her comments was one which claimed that some centres are “just rooms with leaflets for mums to take away”.

But parents at the meeting said that they were “hurt and upset” by the comments, with all agreeing that the centre had provided them with a lifeline.

They called on Ms Dorries – whose constituency does not cover Stotfold – to visit the centre to see just how important the work there is.

“I found it quite offensive and quite ignorant,” said parent Antonia Keane.

“It’s rude not to bother to see what’s behind it. It’s just a slap in the face.”

Another parent, Carl Powell, added: “The centres are so much more than Ms Dorries could possibly understand. I would suggest that she actually attends any one of the sessions so she can experience the magic of what is offered.”

One of CBC’s options is to close all but five centres in Central Beds, another is to close eight centres – including Red Bear – with the final option to keep all 22.

But calls of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” were aired at the meeting. There were also comments regarding the fact that a large percentage of councillors making the decision aren’t local.

Ms Keane added: “Those making a decision are from areas – Dunstable and Houghton Regis – that will get the services, not lose them. They’re making decisions for areas that aren’t theirs.”

Iris Hughes, who has been going to the centre for 13 months with her 16-month-old child, said: “This should be based on needs, on children’s requirements in the community.

“The council has come up with these three options from nowhere. They haven’t gone out there, spoken to people and asked what they use the services for. It’s not a consultation if we don’t have that choice.”

The centre, as well as a centre for children, provides support to parents on a variety of issues including breast feeding, weaning, and getting back into work. It has also, in the past six months, encouraged three women to leave violent relationships.

One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I don’t know what I would do without the centre. They have been a lifeline.

“I think that if it wasn’t for Red Bear, I wouldn’t be alive. It has done more for me than 10 years of mental health.”

Another parent, Bec Whiteside, added: “I always look forward to coming to the centre. If I’ve had a bad day, it’s just nice to come and talk to people and get a hug.”

Speaking to The Comet, Ms Dorries said that her comments were taken out of context. She added: “I never commented on the Stotfold centre and wouldn’t do because it’s not in my constituency. I’d love to visit, but can’t because it’s not in my constituency.

“I hope the parents at the Stotfold centre haven’t taken offence.

“In these difficult times, we need to protect these kinds of services. I wouldn’t like to see them closed.

“I’ve asked for them to be protected because of the valuable work that they do, particularly working with vulnerable families.”

The consultation ends on October 26. To enter, visit www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/consultations

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