Parents at Westfield Nursery discussing the closure.
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Queen Mary University of London’s nursery shutting amidst protest

Queen Mary University of London’s (QMUL) Westfield Nursery is set to close on August 16th, amidst protest from parents.

Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) plans to close its Westfield Nursery on August 16th, despite protests from parents.  

The nursery, which provides childcare for QMUL staff and students, as well as families living in the neighbourhood, is shutting down due to budget cuts. It is part of a larger trend of nursery closures in the UK. 

QMUL’s decision to close was made without consulting staff and parents. There are currently 19 staff in the nursery set to lose their jobs, and 78 children will lose their places. Roughly 35 spots are filled by children of QMUL staff and students, with the remaining spaces filled by local families. 

It is common for Universities to have on-site nurseries, especially Russell Group schools like QMUL. QMUL staff and students are given priority when signing up to the service. Staff receive a 5-10% discount on nursery fees and students receive a 15% discount. 

On-site nurseries make academia more accessible for staff and students with young children. In testimonials, a QMUL staff member stated: ‘I took a job at QMUL specifically to be close to the nursery.’ 

A QMUL student said: ‘For student parents like me who are pursuing degrees, the existence of the nursery is crucial for successfully completing our studies.’

On X (formerly Twitter) Alistair Owens, a professor of Geography at QMUL said ‘All three of my children went to Westfield Nursery…I’ve always been proud that @QMUL offered excellent nursery care. This seems a regressive move at odds with inclusion ambitions.’

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QMUL’s Westfield Nursery

When asked for comment, a Queen Mary University of London spokesperson said: 

‘Since the pandemic, work patterns have changed and the number of children attending the Nursery has consistently been significantly below capacity. Currently, out of a total workforce of over 5,700, only 23 members of staff are using this in-house service, resulting in a running loss of approximately £250k per year.’

However, families at the nursery have asserted that demand for the nursery has been high. A QMUL staff member told us that since April the nursery has been operating at its full capacity. 

From 2020-2023, the pandemic, staff recruitment issues and cost of living meant the nursery was under capacity. Both staff and demand for the service have since increased. Plans to raise fees to cover costs have been delayed several times by QMUL management. 

Parents have complained that less than three months’ notice is too short, as waitlists for nursery spots in London are normally much longer. Westfield Nursery itself currently has a waiting list of a year and a half. 

Staff and some parents were notified on May 28th that the nursery would be shutting on the 16th of August. The remaining parents have found out by word-of-mouth or social media. 

Trade union UNISON is urging QMUL to take steps to avoid the closure. QMUL’s UNISON branch co-chair Anastasia Malama said: ‘The nursery …allows parents to balance a busy work or study schedule, while still caring for their families. The closure would have a significant impact on the local community and nursery staff, most of whom are women.’

Community parents, who aren’t staff or students at QMUL, are also protesting the nursery’s closure. 

Serena Langley, a community parent, told us that the decision has been ‘a disaster’ for her family, with her daughter due to start at the nursery in just eight weeks. ‘We are left scrambling to find an alternative and in our local area the waiting lists are months long …There’s a chance I won’t be able to return to work.’

Asma Jhina, a community parent, said of the nursery ‘We don’t have family nearby, it’s our community. If we lose that …We’re really not sure what we’re going to do in September.’ She added that the announcement to close felt ‘incredibly disrespectful and dismissive.’ 

A change.org petition organised by parents who use the nursery says: ‘[QMUL] plan to inform parents on the waiting list to seek alternative provision, making the closure unavoidable and making a further mockery of their supposed consultation process.’ 

At the time of writing, the petition has 1377 signatures. The parents have also informed QMUL that they are seeking legal advice. 

Last year the UK saw a record number of nursery closures, due in part to increasing overhead costs and difficulties finding and keeping staff. 

Westfield Nursery is desirably located close to the Stepney Green and Mile End tube stations. QMUL just completed renovations on the nursery’s garden areas. 

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