Labour member Sam shares his experience of the campaign
In the seven years that I have lived in Penge, the one thing that has amazed and inspired me again and again is the real sense of community that exists in our town. Over the past three months, our community has united to defend our local nursery from a cynical attack by our Tory led Council.
The bombshell hit at the end of June, when parents at Community Vision nursery received a letter from Bromley Council. The nurseries were operating at a loss, the letter said. The Council were looking at options for the future. Jacking up the fees or selling the nursery off were two options, but they might not work. Closure was being seriously considered. Parents were asked whether they’d prefer an April or July closure.
There was no warning that this was coming. Our local Councillors were not informed that the letter was coming. The staff were sworn to silence but the sadness around the nursery was clear to everyone. Parents began to panic – where would their children go in less than 12 months? The Council offered a 4 week “consultation” which fell into the Summer holiday period, stopping many people from responding.
But the Tory leadership didn’t count on the resolve and togetherness of our community. Penge fought back.
Within 24 hours, well over 100 people were supporting the campaign group I set up on social media. After a week, we had a campaign committee and had made the front page in the local newspapers. A local meeting was held in Melvin Hall, a petition was set up and a rally was held in Crystal Palace Park.
Within a fortnight, over 150 Penge people were committed to our campaign.
And this is where the local community really came together. From the local Councillors, to the Penge Tourist Board and the Penge Forum, everyone helped to spread the word and our campaign grew and grew.
Our consultation response was detailed and challenged the financial, ethical and social assumptions made by the Council. We were particularly concerned about looked after children, who the Council have a legal responsibility to care for, as well as whether space existed elsewhere in Penge for the displaced children.
Through the Summer we prepared searching questions for the meeting of Full Council this week, where we heard the amazing news that the nursery would remain open after all. When announcing the news, Cllr Peter Fortune (newly installed as Deputy Leader) accused our campaign of scaremongering and suggesting that all the Council had ever wanted was to gauge opinion from parents. In my experience, the ultimate compliment to a campaign is to pretend that it made no difference.
But it did. We came together when our local nursery needed us most. When the most vulnerable in our community were threatened, Penge stood up for them.
I’ve never been prouder to be part of this amazing community that truly does look out for each other.
Penge & Cator Branch Co-Secretary