Around five hundred Salford people, many wearing bright yellow 'Fight For The Five' t-shirts, took to the streets of Swinton today, marching from Victoria Park to Salford Civic Centre, to demonstrate support for five Salford Council run nurseries with the long term future still not secured.
This Thursday, on the eve of the demonstration and a consultation on the nurseries' closure, Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett, did a massive U-turn, finding £1.5million to keep them open until September 2019, and removing the closure option from the consultation which is still to start on Monday (see here)
At the end of the rally outside the Civic Centre, Salford UNISON rep, Ameen Hadi, did an impromptu consultation, asking protesters: 'Do you want your nurseries privatised?' to which the answer came 'No!'... 'Do you want to make sure they stay with qualified nursery workers?'... 'Yes!'...'Do you want to make sure they stay in public control?'... 'Yes!'.... "I think we've done that consultation already", he said to loud cheers.
Earlier, parents and staff had spoken at the rally, each with their own personal stories of how great the five OFSTED-rated outstanding nurseries have been. One speaker from Higher Broughton read out a letter from a six year old girl called Julia whose brother attends the nursery...
"Please do not shut my little brother's nursery...My mummy's really upset because she knows that this nursery is the best and she doesn't want to send my little brother anywhere else..."
Another parent, Sara, from Winton, had her experience recounted about her son who has a rare genetic disorder and numerous sensory issues, which leave him unable to speak and to be fed through a peg in his tummy...
"Nurseries give children like my son the chance to flourish and succeed, they are like a life ring to our child" she explained "His progress is immense and he's one hundred per cent accepted. Losing the nursery would be absolutely devastating and outrageous.
"Most disadvantaged children would have had opportunities snatched away" she added "These children need our help to thrive and succeed. Money taken from vulnerable children in our society should be the very last resort."
Clare, from Winton, also stressed the importance of council run nurseries...
"Privatisation is a red line for us" she emphasised "We will continue to campaign to make sure these nurseries are kept open and under Council control. Closure is off the table but it is only for now.
"We have achieved all this in one month" she added "As we strengthen our campaign we can achieve more. Now we campaign together at Westminster, we demand the funding and we urge the Council to scrap the consultation until that pressure on the Government has happened. We will push forward with this campaign. Our children's future is too important to stop now."
It was all a warning shot to the City Mayor, the three Salford MPs and councillors who joined the protest. Indeed, there was the surreal sight of councillors and the Mayor wearing the yellow 'Fight For The Five' t-shirts and making sure the Labour Party banner was at the front end of the march, when it was their proposal in the first place to close the nurseries.
It was only after public pressure that the Mayor performed two huge U-turns, firstly postponing the original consultation for a month, and then finding £1.5million at the twelfth hour, before the demonstration was aimed at himself.
The Labour Party politicians present all stressed, correctly, the role of the Tory Government, in changing the funding formula for Early Years, so that the Council has to pay 95% of its funding to other providers of childcare, leaving a deficit in funding for its own in-house nurseries.
Salford and Eccles MP, Rebecca Long-Bailey, read out a statement from Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who, she said, "would have been here today if he could because he absolutely loves Salford ..."
Corbyn wrote: "Tory cuts have failed local councils and failed young children and their families, and the changes to Early Years funding formula continues to fail them. Childhood sets the course of achievement for the whole of a lifetime, not to mention the ability of parents to work themselves. But this Government's disregard of the funding of the key local services not only threatens the families and dedicated staff in five outstanding nurseries in Salford, but it also undermines the Government's claim that they are building solid economic foundations for the future...
"Childcare and Early Years providers must now receive the funding it needs to properly deliver thirty hours of free childcare for three and four year olds, and Government ministers must now listen and act, and listen to Salford..."
The two other Salford MPs present, Graham Stringer and Barbara Keeley, underlined the points, while Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Angela Rayner, told the crowd that "It will be you that wins this campaign and keeps those five nurseries open".
Giving a bit of her own background about never having had the opportunity to read a book because her mum couldn't read or write, and being a mum herself at 16, Angela Rayner added that children deserve the right to be school-ready via nurseries such as those that are under threat in Salford...
"The consultation continues" she concluded "We want to make sure that in the meantime, while Theresa May is on notice, she keeps her filthy paws off Salford Early Years and nurseries..."
Finally, the Salford Mayor also made a speech against the Tory Government, listing a battery of statistics about child poverty and cuts... "Today we want to send a loud message to the Government that enough really is enough" he said.
Despite attempts by Salford Labour Party to turn the protest into its own election rally, the message was also clear that, should Salford's Labour Council consider closure of the five nurseries after the consultation, the anger will also be turned on them too.
After the demonstration, Clare Calderwood, a parent from Winton with two girls at the nursery, told the Salford Star... "I think it's a great turnout; there's so much support...We just hope that they stay with us throughout the campaign and throughout the next year and continue to show their support.
"The extra year was welcomed and we're appreciative that the money has been found" she added "But I want to ensure that doesn't mean the closure happens at the end of that year, and that the pace doesn't slow down over the year..."
Update 26th March: Two days after huge march Salford Council consults on 'alternatives - click here
Photos by Gareth Lyons
For lots more photos of the demo see Gareth Lyons' Flickr page - click here