Labour group calls for empty shops to be used as children's centres

Norfolk Labour suggests repurposing disused shops as childcare centres in Norfolk County Council manifesto.

Norfolk Labour suggests repurposing disused shops as childcare centres in Norfolk County Council manifesto - Credit: Archant

Could empty shops become childcare centres?

The Norfolk Labour group is putting forward the suggestion as part of its manifesto, suggesting disused high street shops could become children’s centres and retirement homes.  

The Labour lead for children’s services, Mike Smith-Clare, said the group wanted to take advantage of spacious high street premises and provide families with a convenient place for shopping.  

“If we extend those centres to provide child care too, it will help those working on, in and near high streets and make it easier to come to work,” Mr Smith-Clare said.  

“Busy shops will thrive and encourage more businesses and customers. People in high streets improves footfall and protects other local businesses.”  

Brenda Jones, Labour county councillor. Pic: Labour Party.

Brenda Jones, Labour county councillor. Pic: Labour Party. - Credit: Labour Party

Mr Smith-Clare said the cost would be relatively cheap while helping to stimulate the local economy.  

This plan follows a decision by the Conservative-led county council to shut the majority of its children’s centres in 2019.  

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Brenda Jones, Labour lead on adult care, said redundant stores could provide specialist accommodation, to promote independence and combat isolation.   

“Suitable larger units could be converted into flats and residential accommodation for older people and those with disabilities who would like to live independently closer to the centre of things but have problems with travelling far.   

“Tackling those feelings of isolation also brings more people and spending power into high streets, opening up new markets. It makes high streets places where all generations want to be.”  

John Fisher, Conservative cabinet member for children's service at Norfolk County Council, dismissed the idea, saying it was “going backwards”.  

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Pic: Norfolk County Coun

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

“We set up the childhood and family services on the basis that the people using them children’s centres were not the people we wanted to reach – the people who lacked the confidence to walk into a centre."  

Mr Fisher said he was surprised because many of the services were now operating from other places.  

Instead, he thought the disused stores should be used by start-up businesses and independent shops.  

The Liberal Democrat leader, Steffan Aquarone, said he could “neither support nor reject” the idea.  

Mr Aquarone said he was not sure how the plan would work, but said he supported bringing back children’s centres.  

Norfolk Liberal Democrat group leader Steffan Aquarone. Picture: Alex Broadway

Norfolk Liberal Democrat group leader Steffan Aquarone said Children's centres are important places for new parents - Credit: Alex Broadway

“While I’m aligned to the ambition, I’m not sure how it would work in practice,” he said.  

Mr Aquarone said a positive would be having services close to where people work, but thought it might work better in places like market towns.   

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