Essex mum opens children's centre after council closures

Children and parents sit in a circle
Image caption Kristy Kerry set up Love Laugh Learning after being "frustrated" by the closure of council-run children's centres

A mother has opened a children's centre after finding nowhere for her second child to go following closures of free council-run hubs.

Kristy Kerry used her life savings to found Love Laugh Learning in Colchester, which charges fees, after finding other options had closed.

Since 2014, 74 of the 86 children's centres in the county have shut.

The council said changes meant "greater flexibility" and a wider range of services for families.

Image caption Mrs Kerry poured her life savings into the business on the Severalls Industrial Park in Colchester and it opened six months ago

Mrs Kerry said centres provided places for families to learn, build relationships and share knowledge.

"Lots of the children's centres and things I had come to rely on had closed down. It was a frustration thing," she said.

"These centres were a crucial part of me finding new mum friends and finding people I could ask advice from."

Classes cost an introductory rate of £45.50 per half-term, and "stay and play" sessions cost £3 a time.

Services at council children's centres were free.

The council said it had moved away from the children's centres model to one of "family hubs, delivery sites and outreach".

Louise McKinlay, cabinet member for children and families, said: "They have been a great success, offering support which is shaped by local families and which is better at meeting their needs, and proving it is possible to offer a better service which improves the lives of vulnerable families and spend less money doing so."

But Mrs Kerry said shutting centres down would have a long-term impact on children and families.

Image caption Melissa Jethwa-Flack said she would have nowhere to go if it was not for the new Colchester centre

Melissa Jethwa-Flack, who attends the new Colchester centre, said: "It is a huge shame [closing the centres], because unless I knew about this place I would probably be at home or driving to my mum's once a week to get me out of the house."

The council has promised a "budget for all" despite proposing £58m of cuts leaving it with a total budget of £992m for 2020-21. The cuts include £24m in adult social care.

Image caption Seventy-four of the 86 children's centres in Essex in 2014 have now closed

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