New Malden Centre: Parents ‘devastated’ at crèche closure

Distraught parents have launched a petition, urging Places of Leisure to reconsider its decision to close its crèche at the New Malden Centre by Friday May 26. 

At the time of writing, the petition has already reached 112 of 200 signatures.  

Natalie Hannah, a 39-year-old resident who started the  petition, said: “I used the crèche when my son was younger and really valued it.” 

Parents received the news in a letter earlier this month, explaining that Places of Leisure could not continue the service due to rising energy bills and usage not returning to pre-pandemic levels. 

“I was devastated when I found out,” said Arlene Shepherd, a hospital pharmacist and frequent user of the crèche. 

The move reduces local childcare options further as Tolworth Recreation Centre’s crèche will also close at the end of the month. 

She said it was a shock to both parents and the staff to find out it was closing.  

“There was no consultation or warning. The crèche is a lifeline for so many parents,” Shepherd said. 

Shepherd and her husband, who both work in the NHS, have been taking their two-year-old son Jack to the crèche for just under a year. 

She commended the professionalism of the staff and said her son had really benefitted from his time at the crèche. She said: “It’s nice when you see your little one smiling about something they’ve learned or made if you don’t have the resources.” 

Lack of flexible options

Working in the NHS, Shepherd stressed the importance of young parents having the “luxury” of some time for themselves, allowing them a break. “We know it is so important for your mental health and wellbeing to have some physical exercise,” she said. 

Running from 9am-1pm, the crèche’s sessions are coordinated with the centre’s aerobic classes and adult education courses. It offers a range of educational and creative activities for children under five whilst parents were able to have some time for themselves.  

The manager and deputy manager of the crèche had left a few weeks prior to the announcements. “They had both been working there for decades so that was unexpected,” Hannah said.  

“If the crèche closes, we won’t get the flexible childcare options,” she said. Shepherd explained that she was already relying on grandparents to help out whilst her and her husband were at work, “anything extra feels a bit much”.  

Shepherd agreed, adding that crèche facilities offered a couple of hours of childcare, rather than sending a child to a full or half-day at nursery.  

Brightsparks Day Nursery in New Malden offers full day childcare for approximately £74 for under two-year olds and £70 for children over two years. 

The Places for Leisure crèche charges £6 an hour, with special discounts for parents with a premium membership or those participating in an adult course at the centre.  

Shepherd added that she was sure parents would be willing to pay extra to keep the service running. 

She said childcare in New Malden is largely restricted to half days or full days, not providing the adaptable options parents need and value. 

“There is a shortage of flexible childcare options in the area, especially for under two-year-olds,” Hannah said.  

Shepherd took to the New Malden Neighbourhood Facebook group to voice her sadness. Commenter Tim Davies referred to the government’s promise of increased free childcare but added that there has not been enough funding to match this.  

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt’s March budget promised up to 30 hours a week of free childcare for working families with children between nine months and four years. However, this will be phased in over the next couple of years.  

Alternative offers

The Places of Leisure New Malden site management team said: “Places of Leisure and Kingston Council will be changing the crèche provision that it currently offers at the Malden Centre and Tolworth Recreation Centre. 

“We want to assure everyone that it is not a decision we have taken lightly. […] Our commitment to creating and supporting thriving and healthy communities remains a top priority. We are dedicated to making access to leisure as affordable as possible for everyone.” 

Places of Leisure also announced it will be offering programmes such as Parent & Baby Yoga and Baby Spin classes for those who previously used the crèche. 

However, Shepherd criticised the new classes as “not the same”. 

She called on Kingston Council to take action: “The council should consider adding extra funding towards this vital local service.”  

Lesley Heap, Liberal Democrat Councillor for New Malden, said the resident’s petition was “their prerogative” and gave no further comment.  

Kingston Council said in a statement: “There are a variety of childcare options within the local area for children under two. 

“Any families needing support to find childcare can contact our Families Information Service at” 

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