By Jean Lane
In the centre of Hackney, where the children, by and large, live in tower blocks and where green space is a rare commodity, St John's Nursery provided a beautiful, open, green space for over 40 kids.
Foxes, feral cats and squirrels were a part of the children's everyday experience. Staff with over 18 years experience in the sort of care that inner city kids would need to prepare them for the jungle of the 'big school' gave them their first experience of independent life outside the home in a safe, anti-racist and peaceful setting.
What could be more important in the busy agenda of a large inner city London Borough than the excellent provision of care such as this for its child-citizens, its councillors of the future? Good question.
Well, for Hackney Council, far more important are things such as the selling off of council property for a song so they could be done up by private developers and sold off as apartments that no Hackney resident would ever be able to afford. Such was the fate of the old Social Security offices on Clapton Pond, a mile away from St. John's, now selling as flats at £300,000 a throw. Four council properties in Broadway market nearby being sold off for £10,000 (one of the prospective buyers a Labour Councillor!) will suffer the same fate.
With so much private and corporate money sloshing around you would be forgiven for thinking that a little nursery for 40 kids of small consequence financially for such a big and busy borough. But no. St John's has been closed. The reason, purely financial.
No mention of the welfare or social needs of the borough's children were ever mentioned in the decision to close it. Only the cost to the council of keeping it open. Not only that but St John's is the fourth nursery in the Borough to close in two years.
The comfort and exclusivity of the rich will get a hearing from Hackney but the local kids and parents can go to hell as far as they are concerned.
To the credit of the parents they did not go to hell but straight into the nursery and locked the doors behind them. They occupied the building for five days, receiving messages of support and visits from trade unionists and activists from far and wide.
The occupation ended after heavy legal threats from the council which has such big business connections it feels it can push its weight around the local community with bully-boy impunity. That's a good lesson for children, isn't it!
Did you see Tony Blair doing that speech on redistribution on Wednesday? Where did he pick to do it?! The Ann Tayler Centre, the nursery where several of the kids from St John's were displaced to! Couldn't believe the bloody bare-faced cheek of the man!
Anyway, John and I wrote to the Guardian about it, and the letter (slightly cut down) was published. Here's the long version ...
Tony Blair: Don't kiss our baby
The Guardian reports today on Tony Blair's visit to the Ann Tayler Centre nursery in Hackney.
The sick irony is that several of the children who attend this nursery - including our son, Alex - have just been transferred there against their wishes from St John's nursery, which was closed down by Hackney's Labour Council. This closure has upset our children and disrupted their care and development, has lost 45 public nursery places in Hackney, and has further reduced the slim prospects for the thousand-plus children on the waiting list.
If Tony Blair is going to preach about 'redistribution of wealth', perhaps he could redistribute some of it in the direction of Boroughs like Hackney, so that children from working-class families can get a decent start in life. And perhaps the Labour Party could rid itself of Councillors who think nothing of persecuting children whilst lining the pockets of private contractors.
Janine Booth and John Leach