Fresh hope in campaign to save Capital's at-risk crèches

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save crèche facilities at council-run leisure centres were given fresh hope today after city leaders agreed to explore new funding options.

Talks with NHS Lothian will take place in a bid to persuade health chiefs to subsidise the facilities, often used by mums with post-natal depression.

Crches at Kirkliston leisure centre, the Leith Victoria swim centre, Craiglockhart Tennis and Sports Centre and the Royal Commonwealth Pool are all due to close next month, because of a 300,000 drop in council funding for Edinburgh Leisure.

Dozens of parents and young children mounted a noisy protest at the City Chambers last Thursday, where they pleaded with councillors to keep the four crches open.

The campaigners have already persuaded Edinburgh Leisure to reduce the overall number of closures from six to four, but they are also fighting against a 2 price hike that was introduced to offset costs.

Protester Sam Anderson, 38, from Canongate, whose daughter Sophie turns two next week, spoke as part of a delegation at the meeting.

"This decision is the best we could have hoped for on the day," she said.

"We're now anxious about timescales, because if the crches close at the end of June, it will be difficult to get them re-opened, so I hope we move very quickly on this.

"It makes sense for NHS Lothian to help because (crches] are a proactive preventative service, and they should be supporting that. As well as helping with post-natal depression, it's about general fitness and sets a good example to children."

The crches – described as a "lifeline" for families – were used by thousands of children last year while their mothers worked out or swam. The importance of free time and exercise to new mums was backed by the Edinburgh-based Post-natal Depression Project, which opposed service cuts.

Labour Leith councillor Gordon Munro presented a motion to the full council meeting on Thursday, calling on officials to "explore alternative funding sources within and outwith the council" and "enter into urgent dialogue with Lothian Health Board with a view to utilising funding streams".

The motion won the backing of administration councillors, with the caveat that Edinburgh Leisure is also invited to the discussions.

Cllr Munro said: "There has been an active GP referral policy for post-natal depression, so there's an obvious opportunity for NHS Lothian to help subsidise community facilities."

Keith Jackson, chief executive of Edinburgh Leisure, said: "We would naturally welcome any discussions in relation to the provision of our crche services – particularly if this was to lead to an alternative source of funding."

Cathy Orr, child health commissioner with NHS Lothian, added:

"We would be happy to discuss this when or if it's raised by our council partner."

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