Waltham Forest Echo

Waltham Forest Echo

Parents plead to save 'godsend' children's centre

"If we lose this space to development, we won’t get anything like it again."

Hero for Parents plead to save 'godsend' children's centre
Concerned parents outside the shuttered Limes centre (credit: Penny Dampier)
By Victoria Munro 04 August 2022

Parents devastated by the closure of a uniquely disability-friendly children’s centre are urging the building’s owner not to sell it.Parents devastated by the closure of a uniquely disability-friendly children’s centre are urging the building’s owner not to sell it.

Earlier this year, The Limes centre, based in Walthamstow’s William Morris Hall, announced it was closing permanently after 19 years due to financial difficulties.Earlier this year, The Limes centre, based in Walthamstow’s William Morris Hall, announced it was closing permanently after 19 years due to financial difficulties.

The centre was forced to shut temporarily last year while Ofsted investigated safeguarding concerns and, though the regulator concluded it was satisfied, the period of missed income dealt a fatal blow.The centre was forced to shut temporarily last year while Ofsted investigated safeguarding concerns and, though the regulator concluded it was satisfied, the period of missed income dealt a fatal blow.

Parents told the Echo The Limes was a “godsend” and uniquely equipped for disabled children. Now, they are terrified Barnado’s, the building’s owner, might sell it to a developer.Parents told the Echo The Limes was a “godsend” and uniquely equipped for disabled children. Now, they are terrified Barnado’s, the building’s owner, might sell it to a developer.

Claire Bithnell, who has a son with autism and mobility issues, told the Echo: “Its closure has left a massive hole for all kids, but particularly for kids with special needs. If we lose this space to development, we won’t get anything like it again.Claire Bithnell, who has a son with autism and mobility issues, told the Echo: “Its closure has left a massive hole for all kids, but particularly for kids with special needs. If we lose this space to development, we won’t get anything like it again.

“The beauty of The Limes was that it had a really big, lovely central space; a sensory room, which was magical; a soft play area; and a very inclusive outdoor space, designed so kids in wheelchairs could get on the play equipment as well.“The beauty of The Limes was that it had a really big, lovely central space; a sensory room, which was magical; a soft play area; and a very inclusive outdoor space, designed so kids in wheelchairs could get on the play equipment as well.

“Even before I realised one of my children has educational needs, it was the only play group I felt comfortable with. I always knew they were safe and, because it’s so big, one can be in a quiet area and the other can be in the fray of everything.“Even before I realised one of my children has educational needs, it was the only play group I felt comfortable with. I always knew they were safe and, because it’s so big, one can be in a quiet area and the other can be in the fray of everything.

“What I’m really sad about is when my son gets older. I know from other parents that the teenage years are hard and The Limes was running great youth groups. The friends kids make at The Limes are sometimes the only friends they have.”“What I’m really sad about is when my son gets older. I know from other parents that the teenage years are hard and The Limes was running great youth groups. The friends kids make at The Limes are sometimes the only friends they have.”

Ursula Coskin, whose two adult sons attended well into their teens, added: “It was a big part of our life and, from my point of view, an absolute godsend. It wasn’t expensive and it lasted from 10am to 3.30pm, which gave me a chance to do the shopping in peace.”Ursula Coskin, whose two adult sons attended well into their teens, added: “It was a big part of our life and, from my point of view, an absolute godsend. It wasn’t expensive and it lasted from 10am to 3.30pm, which gave me a chance to do the shopping in peace.”

However, parents are not the only ones determined to see the building preserved. Local historian, Roger Huddle, insists it is “unique in the history of architecture”.However, parents are not the only ones determined to see the building preserved. Local historian, Roger Huddle, insists it is “unique in the history of architecture”.

He told the Echo: “It was built [in 1909] by local trade unionists and socialists on Sunday mornings for a tuppence a brick - it was named after William Morris not because of his wallpaper but because of his revolutionary socialism.He told the Echo: “It was built [in 1909] by local trade unionists and socialists on Sunday mornings for a tuppence a brick - it was named after William Morris not because of his wallpaper but because of his revolutionary socialism.

“All kinds of people spoke there, including Sylvia Pankhurst… but it fell into disrepair in the late 60s and the Labour party sold it on.“All kinds of people spoke there, including Sylvia Pankhurst… but it fell into disrepair in the late 60s and the Labour party sold it on.

“I thought that was a criminal act because it’s got such a romantic history. I think the Labour party or the council should buy it back.”“I thought that was a criminal act because it’s got such a romantic history. I think the Labour party or the council should buy it back.”

The building has been owned by Barnado’s since 1986 and parents said they’d been told the charity “could not make any guarantees” it will remain a centre for disabled children.The building has been owned by Barnado’s since 1986 and parents said they’d been told the charity “could not make any guarantees” it will remain a centre for disabled children.

A Barnado’s spokesperson said: “As a charity, we seek to ensure that our properties are best utilised to support the children and families we work with. A Barnado’s spokesperson said: “As a charity, we seek to ensure that our properties are best utilised to support the children and families we work with. 

“To meet this end, we are currently looking into possible options and will consider all opportunities to ensure the best outcome for the families and communities who have an interest in the future of this site."“To meet this end, we are currently looking into possible options and will consider all opportunities to ensure the best outcome for the families and communities who have an interest in the future of this site."