Childcare centre used by parents attending Leeds courts closes after 34 years

Julie Commons, who has been manager at the centre since 1990.
Julie Commons, who has been manager at the centre since 1990.
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A children’s centre which provided free care for youngsters whose parents were involved in cases at courts in Leeds for 34 years has closed its doors for the last time.

The Oxford Place Children’s Centre, which was first opened in 1983, looked after children of defendants, witnesses and friends people involved in family proceedings at Leeds Crown Court and Leeds Magistrates’ Court.

The centre received the majority of its donations as a result of fundraising work done by the Methodist Women in Britain church group.

Methodist Minister Jenny Jones, Deacon for the Oxford Place Centre, said charitable donations have been in decline since the 2008 financial crisis and that the number of children using the centre has reduced from 2,500-a-year in 2011 to the current figure of 750-a-year.

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Deacon Jones said: “It is a great sadness. As a church, we have to look at the best ways to use our money for the community. The children’ s centre is no longer viable.”

Julie Commons, who has been manager at the centre since 1990, said Leeds City Council contributes £11,000 a year towards the £36,000 annual cost of running the centre.

She said single parents, including defendants and witnesses, who are involved in cases at Leeds Crown Court regularly use the centre, adding: “It was set up so that when parents are appearing in court they dont have to take their children in with them.

“We have children from the courts every day. We had a lady in last week who was appearing in court and had her little girl with her.

“She was told that if she didn’t find childcare she would have been arrested because you are not allowed to take children into the court room.

“I don’t know what will happen to these children now. We have had a lot of parents complain, but there’s just no money there to keep the centre going. It is very sad.”

The centre also provided childcare at £3-an-hour for groups including Women’s Counselling, Relate and the Space Project, which helps people recovering from mental health and drug problems.

Alice Jelinek, 37, of Harehills, has left her 23-month-old son Stanley at the centre for two-hours every Tuesday for the past six months while she visited The Space Project on nearby Great George Street. She said: “I think it is a massive loss. There will be problems with women not turning up at court because they haven’t got childcare.”

Deacon Jones said: “We have been running at a deficit for a couple of years now. We have always had to fundraise to keep it going, but funds just aren’t available now. There are more demands on people’s charitable giving and people can’t afford to give. It has been more noticeable since the 2008 financial crisis.”

Deacon Jones said changes in court procedures, including prisoners appearing in court via video-link from prison, mean there are less families needing the service.

Deacon Jones added: “We are very proud of the work we have done over the years, but it is no longer sustainable.”

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