Parents gathered in the most deprived area of Wandsworth to “send a message” to the council that local stay and play sessions must survive the planned children’s services shake-up.

At York Gardens Library in Battersea’s Winstanley Estate, the group had a singalong with their children and discussed the impact losing the service could have.

The council plans to expand the adjacent nursery to create space to provide 15 hours of free childcare a week to 2-year-olds who meet specific criteria or whose parents receive certain benefits.

This means the stay and play sessions would likely have to move elsewhere, though the council has said this would hopefully be a temporary measure.

Officers are still working out exactly where the service could be moved, but it would be “certainly within walking distance” – probably at a school or library.

Hannah Lake, who teaches children who have been excluded from schools, said: “All the research shows that early years care is the most important.

“It has a bigger impact and make bigger difference. So when we meet them at secondary school, or even primary school, it’s already too late.

“Stay and play is invaluable. The children’s centre is unique; parents are able to build up relationships with each other.

“It’s a genuine microcosm of society.”

Jennie Fortune, whose four children all came to the stay and play when they were younger, said: “I became a single parent after I had number four, and this was my absolute life-saver.

“I would just get here and know that there was something age appropriate, and they weren’t going to hurt themselves. It gave me a bit of breathing space.

“And I met one of my best friends through here.”

The protest was organised by Wandsworth’s opposition group of Labour councillors.
Battersea MP Marsha de Cordova was there, and gave a speech outlining her “100 per cent support” for the campaign.

After her speech, she said: “The children’s centre is essential – particularly the universal stay and play.

“Children benefit. Parents and carers benefit too. Particularly in this area, being so deprived.

“To lose that service, for some of the parents who don’t have their own outdoor space, would have a huge negative effect.

“People come here and they can talk about issues; that peer support is so important. So it’s crucial.”

The Winstanley Estate is set to be demolished and rebuilt with more than 2,000 homes, and a planning application is currently open for public comment.

Part of the council’s plans for the estate include a single space for the nursery and other services for young families – this is expected to be finished in 2023.

In a letter to residents concerned about the stay and play sessions, leader of the council Ravi Govindia said: "We need to expand the nursery that currently operates from the children’s centre building so that we can create more places for these children.

"Our aim is to provide these extra nursery places under the same roof as the baby clinic, heath visitor service and parenting classes which we know are well received and well used by local residents.

“Please rest assured that our goal is to increase access to early learning places for two-year-olds and to expand the number of venues where we provide early years opportunities like stay and play."

The council recently undertook a consultation into the wider changes to children’s services.

Recommendations arising from the consultation will be discussed at Children’s Services and Education Overview and Scrutiny Committee on February 7.