Save Lavender Nursery
Save Lavender Nursery
Lavender Nursery is a fantastic early years educational provider based in Mitcham, South West London. Merton Council are proposing to close (or potentially relocate less than half of the service) in order to vacate the current property for Merton Medical Education Services (MMES). A consultation was held to see if the public agree with closing the nursery, which received 221 objections and only 19 favourable responses. However, the council are still pushing to close the nursery.
See the full consultation here:
See full consultation responses here:
We agree that a new location is essential for MMES but disagree that the Lavender Nursery site at London Road, Mitcham is the right location. The nursery provides childcare 5 days per week, 8am-6pm, 50 weeks per year for 2-4 year olds. The nursery was purpose built for early years education and is perfectly located next to a playground meant for younger children. The site is not suitable for older children and will require extensive modifications at public expense, to adjust it for their use.
The alternative solutions the council have proposed, for parents who want their children to attend Lavender, are inadequate and incomparable to the current provision. School nurseries only begin from the term after a child's 3rd birthday so are not suitable for 1-3 year olds. There is insufficient childcare for pre-school children in the wards served by Lavender Nursery as shown by the Childhood Sufficiency Report 2020 and as detailed in the LNPA formal objection report to the consultation, available below.
The alternative sites proposed by the council (if they decide to relocate the nursery) will only be able to accommodate 24 full time equivalent places. Lavender Nursery currently has 80 part time and 48 full time places with a large waiting list. The Council believes that there is low demand in the area and there is enough provision in the private sector which is clearly not the case, as evidenced in the LNPA report and the Childhood Sufficiency report.
Merton local authorities’ decision to close the ‘baby room’ provision at Lavender in 2018, despite it’s waiting list and continuous demand for under 2’s nursery spaces, call in question premeditated decisions to shrink the overall usage of the building in favour of this consultation for MMES to relocate to Lavender Nursery, with the aim of falsely presenting an under subscribed service with a lack of demand.
Major concerns have been raised by the London Mayor's Office about the substantial impact and loss of Early Years childcare provision as a result of the global pandemic, which have been supported by Sadiq Khan. It is inconceivable that at Labour lead local authority, would defy the lead from City Hall with the proposal to eradicate a thriving and highly in demand nursery at a time of such community need.
Closing the nursery will have a devastating impact on local families and reduce the quality of education and care provided in Merton (and surrounding boroughs) for the under 5s also resulting in many staff job losses.
We implore the Council to reconsider their plans to close this well loved nursery and find an alternative solution for MMES.
We look forward to your response on this urgent issue.
Lavender Nursery Parents Association Consultation Response
The Lavender Nursery Parents Association [LNPA] is a group of parents and carers of children at the Nursery, former pupils, and children on the waiting list. We have considered the current proposal put forward by Merton Council and have concluded that we are unanimously opposed to the proposal to close Lavender Nursery, London Road, Mitcham, in August 2021.
Merton Council’s proposal to close Lavender Nursery shows a clear misunderstanding of the requirements of childcare for local parents and the suggested alternatives are not applicable to the vast majority of the children. The local authorities admission criteria does not allow children aged 2-3 years old to attend nursery classes within primary schools, which is where we understand the majority of the vacancies outlined in Merton Council's proposal are highlighted to be (and even when they turn 3 they cannot attend until the term after their third birthday). Additionally these nursery places are unsuitable for working families who require childcare from 7.45-6pm and all year round [school nurseries are only available term time only]. Although some schools provide wrap around & holiday care, the majority of these are not available for the 3-4 years age group. The council's proposal also fails to consider the financial, logistical, emotional and environmental impact of uprooting those children to alternative childcare providers, for which this report evidences an average 30% increase on childcare costs as a result of this displacement.
The LNPA have found that the suggested decrease in demand for affordable, safe, purposeful, and forward thinking Early Years childcare is unfounded and in fact many of the council’s policies [The Local Plan, Childcare Sufficiency in Merton (2020)] contradict the proposal to reduce the number of Early Year childcare places in the local area. Merton Council’s continued regeneration ambitions, in particular to encourage young people to move to the area, will inevitably require enhanced Early Years education facilities and whilst the LNPA recognise the validity in the need for young people’s medical educational services, it is very likely that an increase in the young family population will demand a higher ratio of EYFS childcare, over that required to support the number of pupils across the local area with medical educational needs. It is the LNPA’s opinion that the council’s proposal is, in this case, short sighted and fails to future-proof the local area and its own budget requirements.
The council's consultation document fails to detail adequate information on alternative sites that have been explored for the relocation of Merton Medical Educational Services [Canterbury Road Campus]. Merton Council note in their proposal, that MMES ‘have outgrown their previous accommodation at the Canterbury Road campus, Morden. They are currently in temporary provision but require a permanent, suitable home’. However it is evident from the Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Panel meeting held on Wednesday 10th February 2021, that Merton Council have failed to fully consider alternative sites within the borough, including the Whatley Avenue site. Whatley Avenue is currently unoccupied, having most recently been utilised as a temporary site for Harris Academy Wimbledon for its 360 students. The LNPA understand that Merton Council propose to use this site for specialist SEN provision for up to 90 pupils and therefore the LNPA suggest the site has enough capacity to house both this SEN provision and the requirements of MMES, while still ensuring appropriate segregation of the two services and their individual needs. This also leaves space for both these provisions to grow in future years, unlike the current Lavender Nursery site. Merton council’s solution to the rehousing of MMES will subsequently deplete and disperse a fully functioning, highly in demand and successful Early Years childcare facility which serves its own residing families. It is not clear from the current proposal what other alternative sites have been analysed for the relocation of MMES and therefore why the proposal is to relocate
MMES some 2.5 miles across the Borough. It would be reasonable to assume that this drastic relocation will inevitably have an impact on its current families who will be required to incur additional upheaval in transportation to get to the Lavender Road, London Road site, should the proposal go ahead.
In addition and in light of the current global pandemic, the LNPA believe Merton council has been unreasonable in the time scale provided for this consultation, given the gravity of the impact of the nursery's closure on families and its own staff. The LNPA believe that the council have deliberately failed to effectively inform other groups that are directly impacted and, more generally the wider community, of the consultation proposal, assuming this will be a matter affecting only those families currently on-roll. Again this approach is short-sighted and divisive, excluding parents who were previously on the waiting list, who may well be expecting their child to attend and have Lavender Nursery earmarked as their local nursery, as well as all those families whose children have received the wonderful care and education provided at Lavender Nursery, who will be personally affected.
Whilst the LNPA appreciates the councils position in needing to find an alternative site for MMES, we fail to understand why this must come at the enormous cost of the closure of Lavender Nursery and how the council have justifiably arrived at the position that the only alternative site across the entire borough is a hugely in demand, incredibly successful and vital early years childcare provider.
The LNPA urges the council to reconsider its position on targeting Lavender Nursery as the only appropriate site for Merton Medical Education Services.
This response is written on behalf of the LNPA with regards to the recent proposal and consultation for the closure of Lavender Nursery [London Road] to allow for the expansion of Merton Medical Education Service provision.
Firstly, we would like it noted that the approach and timing of this consultation period by the Local Authority feels much like an ‘afterthought’. Lavender Nursery is a vital community hub, providing safe, regulated and highly impactful childcare and Early Years Education to approximately 100 children of Merton borough. It does appear from the short natured and short sighted approach to this consultation, that the importance of the nursery’s impact on its local community has been neglected by the Local Authority and it is the LA’s intention to forcibly escalate this matter without due care and consideration on the impact this poses to its own community.
Formal consultation should in any case, allow open, unbiased discussions for all affected parties and as such we expect that this response is given appropriate consideration when reaching a decision.
The LNPA have noted that your consultation was published on Monday 24th January 2021 and is due to close on 22nd February 2021. This allows, in a time of national lockdown, for 30 days in which families have to receive, digest, understand, research alternatives, collate and respond to your consultation. This is assuming that all those impacted are in fact able to access the resources required to take the aforementioned steps. It is highly likely that there are very many within the groups impacted by this proposal who may be the vulnerable, clinically shielding, those for whom English is not their first language or those from deprived households with little access to the current platforms used for this consultation [internet and email correspondence], they will have less opportunity or may find it difficult to respond to the consultation. The only people in the local wards who have been directly contacted about the consultation are the parents & carers of Lavender Nursery, the consultation could have been better promoted by the Council through ward Councillors or the local MP as there may be many other people who will be impacted who are unaware .
In addition, and most concerning, we understand there to be a number of legal documents that have been omitted from the consultation. We request to see the Authority Monitoring Report [AMR] as a matter of urgency and understand this is a legal matter that must be adhered to before any decision can be made on this consultation. It is also noted that the published Merton Council Local Plan, held on your website was out of date until part way through the consultation window. GIven the proposed changes are to buildings and that this is a planning matter, we are extremely concerned that the proposal consistently contravenes your borough's Statement of Community Involvement [SCI] June 2020. Your SCI states its agenda to;
Be transparent in the way that consultations are carried out.
We would argue that the short natured timeframe to the consultation suggests that the council’s perspective on this consultation is one merely of formality and is not in the true ‘spirit’ of a consultation. One which protects and promotes the community's voice and allows for feedback to be received and given and for true consideration be applied at senior level to the points raised. Our feeling is that the LA will not have sufficient time within the current timeframe [22nd February 2021] in which to demonstrate they have fairly considered all of the objections points raised in this document and by those received from the wider community.
Be clear and helpful in guiding people through the process
The consultation documents were emailed to parents of the nursery on Monday 24th January. Parents were informed that they should email any thoughts to a generic consultation email address. As previously stated, the LA have made an assumption that families will all have access to the resources which will allow them to respond to the consultation appropriately. No adjustments or adaptations have been made to ensure that all families will be able to access the consultation documents. More worrying is the council’s short sighted approach in failing to share this with the other groups who may be impacted and more generally to the wider community. Whilst it is the case that the families currently on role at the nursery are acutely affected, we are aware of an overwhelming number of young families in the area who had anticipated sending their younger children to the nursery when they reached appropriate age or when the nursery had availability to take them. This document details the number of families who have expressed an interest in attending Lavender Nursery since the nursery was sadly forced to close its under 2 year old provision in 2018 and subsequently closed its waiting list to all other class groups since November 2020.
Seek views at the earliest possible stage and throughout the consultation The LNPA would argue that the short turn around for the consultation feedback suggests that the LA are merely carrying out the consultation as a matter of course. It is felt that that the LA have made the deadline unreasonably short as this was either a part of the planned MMES ‘take-over’ of the Lavender Nursery site that was forgotten entirely or was strategically left to the last minute to ensure that there were as few responses as possible. Either way, we would argue that this approach entirely contravenes the borough commitment to its own SCI. Those impacted could also have been involved at an earlier stage, before the formal consultation started.
Section 9.9 of the borough’s SCI stipulates;
‘For such consultation to be meaningful, it should be held towards the beginning of the pre-application process, while there is still a realistic opportunity for the local community to help shape proposals before they are submitted as a formal application. If consultation is held just before submitting the application, the designs are likely to be more fixed and there are fewer opportunities for community engagement to influence the proposals.’
The current proposal suggests that the LA intend to close Lavender Nursery with effect from August 2021. This suggests that a planning proposal has already been submitted and therefore no such pre-application consultation has taken place.
Social & Economic Impact
The LNPA believes there would be a significant social and economic impact from closing the nursery. Closure of the Lavender Nursery will leave up to 120 families currently on roll, without adequate access to early years childcare, which the LNPA believe would cause an insurmountable strain on the ability of parents to work. Merton Council’s Childcare Sufficiency in Merton Annual Report 2019, states;
“Sufficient, high quality childcare is not only a vital component of the local economy and can support regeneration, but ensures that families can access the right type of childcare to meet their needs that enables them to seek work or maintain their employment. In addition, a market that can offer high quality, accessible and affordable childcare has the potential to contribute to the reduction of child poverty. Evidence shows that high-quality Early Years provision has a positive and lasting effect on children’s outcomes, future learning and life chances - regardless of the economic circumstances of their parents. Therefore, high quality childcare supports the Local Authority in its role to improve the wellbeing of young children and reduce inequalities between them.”
The Department for Education’s “Early Education and Childcare Statutory Guidance for Local authorities, states:
“Parents are able to work because childcare places are available, accessible and affordable and are delivered flexibly in a range of high quality settings. To secure sufficient childcare places, local authorities are required by legislation to: secure sufficient childcare, so far as is reasonably practicable, for working parents, or parents who are studying or training for employment, for children aged 0-14”
Working families require full-time childcare in order for them to continue meeting the demands of running and maintaining their household in London. The part time hours currently offered as funded places do not provide sufficient hours for parents to work the hours full-time jobs demand. Adequate childcare facilities have become particularly crucial during the uncertain times of the global pandemic, which continues to cause job losses. The Merton Council proposal fails to appreciate the importance of enabling people back into work and for working parents to continue to be able to work their full hours. The cost of alternative nurseries in the area is notably higher than Lavender Nursery (see Alternative Childcare Providers below), which would cause significant financial strain on its current families and could result in parents being unable to work, with no choice but in to provide childcare at home, forcing families in to a situation of further financial difficulty. This increase in cost for alternative childcare is particularly relevant for Lavender nursery given that it is in Lavender Fields ward, noted as one of the poorest in the borough. Stripping this affordable childcare provision would be particularly damaging to low income families.
LNPA believes the financial viability of the nursery has been impacted by its own downsizing in previous years. Fee paying parents keep nurseries viable. In 2018 Lavender Nursery closed the ‘baby room’ resulting in a significant decrease in the number of fee paying families. This meant that the natural flow of children from the “baby room” up to the “preschool room” was interrupted, which will inevitably have resulted in a decrease in profit to the nursery.
Many parents require their child to attend a nursery from much younger than the age of 2 and so regrettably they have been forced to find alternative arrangements, which would then make them hesitant to move their child back to Lavender Nursery when they reached the age of 2 years. As such, many current Lavender Nursery families are forced to send their siblings to two different nursery settings, resulting in two nursery ‘commutes’ and missing out on the nursery sibling discount.
It is LNPA’s belief that the council has been undermining the financial viability of the nursery by cutting back the intake of the nursery in previous years, in order to be able to justify it’s closure now. By increasing and supporting the fee paying children in the nursery by reopening the “baby room” and maintaining fee paying places in older classes (and if required increasing the fees to prevent the nursery being loss making) the LNPA believe’s the nursery would be revenue generating again. As it stands there is a significant waiting list with around 40 families on the list at the time Lavender Nursery was forced to close it’s waiting as a result of the global pandemic. We are informed that the nursery receives daily enquiries from prospective parents looking for a range of childcare, from 6 months to 5 years.
Lavender nursery is notable in the area for its diversity. The mix of full time paid for places with government funded places supports the local area’s diverse demographic, enabling children from different backgrounds to mix. This was a particular feature of the Sure Start programme, under which the facility was built. The Sure Start programme focused on areas of high deprivation that would benefit from the early years facility but with universally accessible places, ensuring that the children who received funding were able to mix with fee paying children promoting diversity and inclusivity. Closing Lavender Nursery would take this away, sending the children from more deprived families to facilities only offering funded places and children from other families to paid for facilities elsewhere.
The Childcare Sufficiency in Merton Annual Report [2019 & 2020] clearly identifies that there is already a deficit of funded early education for 2-year-olds, within the wards surrounding the nursery.
Variance in availability of ‘funded places available’ to ‘eligible children’
The report states that the Figges Marsh ward currently has: “significantly fewer places in the ward than there are eligible children”. These families are forced to source alternative childcare providers outside of the ward in which they live.
We believe one of these places noted is Lavender Nursery and by removing this facility there would be further strain on available places. It must also be noted Lavender would be the second local nursery to close, following the closure of the independently run Funky Owls, St Barnabas Hall, Gorringe Park Avenue, CR4. Although the council’s Childcare Sufficiency Assessment report shows that the population of Merton’s under-fives has decreased in recent years and suggests that this is expected to continue to decrease over the next five years, the LNPA believe that this is unlikely to be the case given the council’s commitment to regeneration in the local area, thus increasing the number of children being born. There is anecdotal evidence of a Covid ‘baby boom’ on the horizon which would bring further need for nursery places.
Alternative Childcare Providers
There are 2 key considerations for alternative childcare arrangements for the children who are currently at Lavender and who were on the waiting list and expecting a future place.
1. The proposed alternative arrangements for funded places for eligible 2-year-olds (part time, term time, free provision)
Of proposed locations Steers Mead Children’s Centre is the only one within walking distance of Lavender (10mins walk). Acacia Children’s Centre (20mins walk) and Abbey Children’s Centre (30mins walk) are too far for families to travel by foot given the round trip journeys would be between 40-60 minutes from Lavender. This will prevent these nurseries being an option for some families or require those families to travel by car to the locations which is impractical (no parking facilities at the nurseries) but also adds to the pollution in the borough which Merton has pledged to reduce. This also goes against the councils Good Growth Strategy which includes the 20-minute neighbourhood policy ("The council will seek to create 20 minute neighbourhoods where feasible - 20-minute neighbourhoods are places where communities can access most of their daily needs within a 20-minute (about 800 metres) return walk from home.)
The requirement to fill 80 funded places could not be met by the current proposal. Acacia and Abbey offer 24 and 20 places respectively and are currently full. Steers Mead will need to be fully refurbished in order to function as a nursery and will only have the capacity for an additional 29 spaces.
2. Places for 2, 3 and 4-year-olds for fee paying families (full time places)
Although there are other nurseries within 1 mile of Lavender there are many reasons why parents have chosen to send their child/children to Lavender and not those nurseries. Key factors within this are price and location. This is summarised below:
Lavender (as crow flies)
trip time (walking) Ward
Over 3s inc 15- hour
Over 3s inc 30 hours
£1,174.00 £1,140.00 £935.00
Flourish Day Nursery
Nursery on the Green (Colliers
21 mins 42mins
£1,517.00 £1,300.00 £1,001.00 £702.00
Love Lane Day Nursery
Jigsaw Day Nursery
Nursery on the Green (Mitcham)
Haslemere House Day Nursery
22 mins 44mins
30 mins 60mins
Lucky Beans (Wandsworth)
12 mins 24mins
15 mins 30mins
£1,627.00 £1,411.00 £1,223.00 £942.00
£1,497.30 £1,308.43 £1,282.56 £1,024.25
% higher than Lavender
It is clear from the above that Lavender is significantly cheaper than all but one of the other local nurseries, which is a significant distance from the current Lavender Nursery setting. The council’s proposal for the above nurseries to be regarded as suitable alternatives, is unreasonable due to the added impact of the commute to the nursery settings, as well as the incomparable fees the families will be forced to pay, in a time where many families' budgets are stretched. This could result in many children being forced out of suitable childcare provision.
The practicalities of journeys to nursery must also be considered, to ensure journeys are taken on foot rather than by car (to prevent further pollution) the distance to and from nursery is key. The data above clearly shows that many of the nurseries would not be practical to walk to and from and this would be a significant factor in whether parents can use these nurseries in place of Lavender.
Nursery classes in primary schools have been given as an alternative to full time places, however this is not a comparable option. Nursery classes within primary schools are only for children aged 3-4 years, with no options for the children aged 2-3 years currently provided by Lavender Nursery. Places are not available until the term after the child turns 3 (or in some local Wandsworth schools we’ve enquired at, they are only available the September after they turn 3). This is critical to considerations of appropriate alternatives, if a child turns 3 on the 1st April (and onwards) they would not be able to start at a school nursery until the following September, thus requiring a further 6 months of childcare elsewhere. Lavender Nursery is open from 7.45-6pm providing parents with the ability to work a standard full-time working day, while their child is at nursery. The provision within primary schools does not cover the full day and more worryingly not all primary schools offer wrap around care to the nursery age group. The LNPA believes that nursery classes within primary schools are not a like-for-like viable option.
There are a number of childminders in the area, however the services provided by childminders vs nurseries are not comparable. This is particularly key in the pre-school age group where social and emotional development is core to the EYFS and therefore being in a nursery setting with a larger number of children and getting prepared for the school environment is critical. Nursery and childminder provisions cannot be compared to nursery settings, as the parents who chose nursery do so because they are looking for full rounded childcare which supports the research on early years development.
In addition to travel and cost implications of choosing Lavender Nursery, parents note that they chose Lavender Nursery for its setting. Lavender Nursery provides a purpose built building for EYFS with unparalleled facilities (nominated for 2006 Better Public Building Award) including floor-to-ceiling windows offering natural light in all rooms, large separate rooms for all age groups, a huge, secure, well equipped garden and is set back from the main road. No other council run or private nurseries in the area offer comparable facilities, which were specifically designed with young people in mind. The high quality care and experience of the staff, many of whom have been with the nursery for many years, results in excellent relationships between the children, parents and staff which fosters the high quality learning experience across the nursery. Within the local community Lavender Nursery is consistently recommended by parents to future parents as is demonstrated by the waiting lists for places.
The council’s “Children & Young People Plan” agreed to "continue to provide good or outstanding nursery provision and actively promote access to 2 year-old funding". The report states;
‘by removing this provision all parents in full time work who cannot use the reduced hours of the 15/30 hours funding will have the nursery provision taken away from them and despite the offer of relocating the funded places there will still be many parents who are unable to use those sites due to their location and as such are also having the option of funded places removed from them.’
The council’s ‘Childcare Sufficiency in Merton’ report 2020 notes;
Evidence shows that high-quality Early Years provision has a positive and lasting effect on children’s outcomes, future learning and life chances - regardless of the economic circumstances of their parents. Therefore, high quality childcare supports the Local Authority in its role to improve the wellbeing of young children and reduce inequalities between them.
Given this evidence the LNPA believes the closure of Lavender Nursery would lead to significant risk to the development of local children. This is particularly important in the most deprived areas of Merton. In the council published document: Merton Wards Health Profile - Lavender Fields it states only “55% of children in Lavender Fields are "school ready" by the age of 5”.
This is far fewer than the borough, London and national averages and so closing Lavender nursery within this ward will only impact this further
The LNPA highlighted that there are around 40 children on the waiting list and more who were unable to join this waiting list when it was closed in November 2020. These children may now find it difficult to find places at other nurseries as many in the local area are already over subscribed and could be left without a nursery place or have to wait longer than planned before starting nursery. These children have spent a significant portion of their young lives in isolation during the Covid pandemic and without access to baby classes or socialisation the developmental importance of joining a nursery is even more critical.
The LNPA have raised concerns regarding the suitability of the location of MMES at the Lavender Nursery site. Lavender Nursery is situated on London Road, the entrance to which is adjacent to Tamworth Recreation. Tamworth Recreation ground is a playground owned and managed by Merton LA. It’s equipment and play space are suitable for and attract children under the age of 10 years old. As such the playground lends itself well to its location next to Lavender Nursery. The play space is a shared community space where families of all social and economic backgrounds convene together in a safe and calm environment.
The proposal for MMES to relocate to the Lavender Nursery site raises real concerns about the uptake and usage of Tamworth Recreation Ground. The suitable footfall will be drastically reduced in and around the recreation ground area, due to the reduction in the numbers of young children [under 10’s] accessing the playground on a daily basis. This could well render the playground a wasted community space, which will require greater long term upkeep and expense by the LA. It is also possible that in its significantly reduced state, Tamworth Recreation ground could become a space inappropriately used by those demonstrating anti
social behaviour, as is the case for some neighbouring outdoor space such as Edenvale. The playground and splash park can also get particularly busy during the summer and this may not be suitable for anxious or high risk children to have to pass through to enter or leave the facility.
We believe that the LA’s commitment to providing safe outdoor space for all may be compromised by the repositioning of MMES to the Lavender Nursery site.
Future-proofing the community
The current Lavender Nursery site, was a purpose-built award winning site designed specifically for the under 5’s. The single-story premises currently comprises 4 separate rooms, 4 bathrooms all designed with low level accessibility facilities specifically for young people. The substantial outdoor space lends itself to allow children to fully develop the EYFS curriculum and development. For many families who attend the nursery without their own personal outdoor space at home, the access to large, purposeful and safe outdoor learning space will be a lifeline for personal development.
The LNPA feel that Merton council overlooks the very fact that the space was specifically identified and designed and built at much expense, following the needs assessment of its’ community and local area and that the local authority is deliberately disguising the continued level of demand and in fact the likely increase in demand for affordable nursery in the local area, given the mass scale residential development and regeneration that is detailed in Merton Councils local plan. LNPA understand that Merton Council’s Local Plan sets out the following;
Good quality housing could encourage young professionals into Mitcham bringing increased spending power. More people using the town centre will have knock on social and environmental effects, including greater support for existing local businesses, allowing them to expand and create new jobs.
In order to accommodate the significant increase in new housing in Mitcham and the surrounding neighbourhood, in particular from large key development sites, we will also ensure that community services such as education and health meet the needs of existing and new residents.
The LNPA understands that the current Eastfields Regeneration programme proposes 800 new homes, many of which will be targeted towards the council’s ‘local plan’ of encouraging young professionals to the area. As such we anticipate an increase in the demand for nursery places, as young professionals and couples start families. Whilst the LNPA recognise that there may be a small increase in demand for medical education services, the ratio of demand for this type of service is heavily outweighed by the likely demand for ‘mainstream’ affordable, safe and purposeful childcare, which supports the council's current Local Plan, it’s economical objectives of increased income to the area and its environmental agenda ‘Good Growth Strategy’ of creating a minute-community - where communities can access most of their daily needs within a 20-minute (about 800 metres) return walk from home).
The council's current proposal suggests one of the alternative sites for the deposition of Lavender children, will be Acacia Nursery. However given its proximity to the Eastfield Regeneration site, the likely increase in demand for places on the waiting list as a result, will mean fewer places available for those families dispersed from Lavender Nursery. It is also possible that with such demand for Acacia Nursery, the LA could chose to impose a ‘catchment’ area to the nursery, which would force those previously attending Lavender Nursery even further down a waiting list, rendering them without any alternative childcare option, other than the cripplingly expensive independent options. It is very clear from the fee structure’s evidence in this document, that independent nurseries do not currently offer a like for-like alternative to local authority run nurseries. It is LNPA feeling that the proposal entirely fails to take into account the additional and significant financial burden these types of settings would place on young families. Naturally, this would only lead to further marginalising of families on the income spectrum, with only those from more wealthy income households able to continue to access childcare.
The council’s proposal papers suggest that approximately 120 families will be affected by the nursery closures proposal. The short-sighted nature of this implies a deliberate attempt to undervalue the importance and demand for Lavender Nursery. The LNPA understands that, regrettably, Lavender Nursery was forced to close their formal waiting list for new children in November 2020 as a result of the global pandemic, at which time the nursery had 40 families on the formal waiting list, with interest across all age groups. We are aware that since closing its formal waiting list, the nursery continue to be contacted via telephone and/or on a daily basis by new families in need of quality childcare and so we anticipate that should the waiting list have remained open, this figure of 40 families would see a 100% increase, with approximately 80-100 waiting families. The council's proposal fails to take into account the continued demand for spaces at Lavender Nursery, which we would suggest would impact a higher proportion of local families, than is currently in demand for MMES places. In addition, since the closure of the “baby room” in 2018 there are a significant number of families who would seek to put their child into nursery care from a younger age who have now had to find care elsewhere, there could be a significant increase in attendance if this room were to be reopened.
The council should now seriously consider its commitment to its own Local Plan of encouraging young professionals to the area, ensuring that it thoroughly ‘future-proofs’ its education provision. The LPNA believes it would be short-sighted and reactionary of the council to close a highly effective, safe, purposeful, happy and affordable EYFS childcare setting, which will subsequently leave insufficient, inadequate provisions for those that the area intends to attract over the next few years. It should be recognised that young families will also take into account factors such as access to childcare provisions, transportation, ease of commute around childcare, when choosing to move to a new area. The lack of quality nursery will undoubtedly render Mitcham a less desirable area than its counterparts. As such, Mitcham will continue to see a decrease in its external income and local spend and will continue to demand more financially to support its maintenance and regeneration proposal, and this will be a financial and time consuming burden to Merton Council .
A recent study carried out by the Early Years Alliance in collaboration with Ceeda, suggests that 64 percent of nurseries and 56 percent of childminders consider their services to be at immediate risk of closure or to be facing potential closure in the next 12 months. 70 percent of nurseries in disadvantaged areas of London class themselves as ‘struggling’ compared with 59 per cent in more affluent areas. In a press release from the London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office, Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance chief executive, said;
"It is deeply concerning to see that, despite the crucial role that nurseries, pre-schools and childminders in London have played supporting local children and families throughout the pandemic, an ongoing lack of adequate government support - combined with years of underfunding - means the majority will struggle to survive the next 12 months. What's more, given that we know early education is crucial to ensuring that all children are given the best possible start in life, it is particularly worrying that providers in more disadvantaged areas are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing financial difficulties than those in more affluent areas”.
In light of the above considerations, the LNPA would strongly argue that the proposed closure of Lavender Nursery presents ‘false economy’ in the long term and does not seek to future proof itself economically, socially or environmentally.
Impact on Staff
The LNPA understands that the impact on the staff at Lavender Nursery is a legal matter and that there is a full process of separate consultation required, which will impact on at least a third of the staff being forced into involuntary redundancy. The LNPA would like to note however, that in a time of national lockdown, there is an inevitable challenge for finding re
employment and as such any consultation of redundancy should take reasonable steps to support its staff in offering an acceptable level of time for staff to be consulted on the proposal. It is the LNPA’s feeling the local authority should consider allowing additional time for the consultation period, in order to reasonably support the re-employment of its workforce in any way possible. The LA will be aware that failure to follow the due consultation process may result in a legal challenge, through an Employment Tribunal.
It is entirely regrettable that the local council has chosen a time of such employment uncertainty to force a third of the Lavender Nursery workforce into a situation of unemployment. The council and those reading this report, of which many will be parents themselves, will know that the single most important resource to the success of any education setting its staff. The staff at Lavender Nursery are among the highest calibre of educators and childcare providers that any parent could ask for, any OFSTED inspector could assess and any child would wish to be cared for by. Many of the staff have been with the nursery since it opened in 2005 and many families have had all their children attend, some of whom are now at secondary school age and still hold such close regard for the staff at Lavender Nursery.
The LNPA have been astounded by the numbers of ex-families in the community who have reached out to support the objection to the consultation and this is a testament to the long term impact that the staff at Lavender Nursery have had on their children and families. The community support to oppose the closure of Lavender Nursery is evident in the numbers of the local community, who have been in contact with the LNPA and with the consultation team directly. It is entirely remiss of Merton Council to regard the staff at Lavender Nursery as ‘dispensable’.
Since the pandemic and national lockdown, the team at Lavender Nursery have so gracefully supported the local families, by ensuring the children are able to continue to attend the nursery setting that they love so much. The team have continued to put themselves on the front line, they have maintained consistency and stability when it is certain many families would have been left turned upside down in their personal lives. The children of LNPA truly love their nursery. It is no exaggeration to say that the staff provide a life-line for families to continue, not just in a time of global pandemic, but have done since the Lavender Nursery opened its doors to the community in 2005.
The LNPA believes the council’s proposal is poorly argued, lacks evidence, and is short sighted in its attitude to the local community (both currently and in attracting new families to the area). There is no justification that the expansion of the MMES provision should also require the closure of Lavender Nursery. The impact of this closure on the families and children of Lavender Nursery (both current and future) has been ill considered and undervalued. The alternative childcare options being proposed by Merton Council are not comparable to that offered by Lavender. Families will be forced into further financial difficulty as a result of high fees charged by independent nurseries and childminders. The quality of EYFS childcare provision and the suitability of the settings offered is not comparable to that offered by
Lavender Nursery and therefore the local authority is not fulfilling the consultations requirements to support families in sourcing alternative suitable childcare provision. The council have failed to provide a detailed viability report on the alternative options for the relocation of the MMES site, which calls into question the integrity of this consultation.
We therefore urgently require and expect that the timescale is extended for more detailed consultation and that Councillors are involved in this. A number of questions have been raised in this document, and we await a detailed response to them, including addressing the needs of those who use the nursery but for whom English is not their first language, who are currently confused and anxious (in a time where mental health problems are increasing).
Merton Council, Local Plan
Childcare Sufficiency in Merton 
Statement of Community Involvement [June 2020]
Children & Young People Plan [2019-23]
JSNA & Health of the Borough Merton Health Profile
Merton Data – JSNA and health of the borough
Good Growth Strategy
[12th February 2021]
The Business Support Needs of London Early Years Sector and How They can Be Met, Early Years Alliance and Ceeda [November 2020]