Staff at a complex needs nursery service in Lewisham were all made redundant this year after the council shut it down. 

The Ladywell Early Childhood Centre (Complex Needs Unit), based at Ladywell Children’s Centre, was set up in 2007 to provide care and learning to children with complex needs. 

The centre, rated outstanding by Ofsted, offered specialist equipment, sensory areas, a playroom with a ball pit, and toys suitable for various needs.  

Staff were told they were being made redundant in March, 2021, while the nursery is not set to be replaced. Lewisham Council says there has been a decrease in demand for the service.  

But one mum, whose daughter attended the nursery until she started school in September, said she was “shocked” the council has failed to continue the service.  

She said the decrease in demand could be down to the council’s lack of advertising of the service – she said it’s hard to know about it unless someone tells you.  

The mum said that “perhaps there were no profoundly disabled children of the right age last year in the borough”, though she thought it unlikely given the attendance level of a primary school in the borough for children with additional needs.  

“Besides, even if there happened to be no children one year, that doesn't mean there won't be children with complex needs the next.  

“I can understand that they would then be concerned about running the centre with no children in it but surely there may be an alternative solution to closing it for good and making all the staff redundant.  

“Putting the service on a sabbatical would make more sense to me, seeing as the council have already invested a lot of money into the resources there, which has now just gone down the drain,” she said. 

Her daughter started at the nursery when she turned two and had a one-to-one key worker. She mixed this with a nanny twice a week, and a mainstream nursery once a week.  

She said though the staff at the mainstream nursery were “helpful, kind, and willing”, workers at the complex needs nursery were much more familiar with things like tube-feeding, which her daughter, who is also registered blind, needs.   

“The staff at the complex needs centre were amazing - completely dedicated to the children. 

“As you can imagine, it takes my daughter a while to bond with new people but she loved her key worker very much and was so happy to be at the centre.  

“When she graduated they presented us with a huge ring binder of photos of all the different activities they'd done over the years and it was so lovely to see her being happy and being helped to do lots of different things. 

“Not only that, but because this was a Lewisham-run service, the various specialist healthcare staff who are based at Kaleidoscope in Catford would regularly visit and do activities with the children. 

“All the staff knew each other and worked as a team to help the children. 

“In the end, I really liked having a mix of types of childcare as the mainstream nursery helped my daughter get used to other children, whereas the complex needs service helped with her development.  

“To lose the choice to have both is terrible and it just worries me very much that disabled children are the ones to suffer when they can already be vulnerable and parents/carers may already be very tired.  

“It takes a lot of energy to deal with the admin that comes with being disabled in the UK - there is a form to fill out for everything, and making access to services more difficult makes it even harder for tired parents and carers to advocate for their children.” 

A council spokesperson said: “We are strongly committed to ensuring that our residents have access to good-quality childcare, particularly those with complex needs. 

“We provide childcare where it is needed. In recent years there has been a reduced demand on the service at Ladywell and since September 2020 there have been no children on roll at the centre.”