Hope Corner Community Centre in Mays Lane was crowded out with prams, buggies and three television crews – from BBC, ITV and London Live – as a throng of mothers and campaigners demanded a rethink.
Petition forms were handed round the protest meeting to collect as many signatures as possible – see www.savebarnetbreastfeedingsupport.co.uk
Unless the council backs down, the breastfeeding support service will close at the end of March and put six part-time infant feeder trainers out of work.
Barnet breastfeeding runs nine drop-in group sessions a week across the borough, including one at Hope Corner on Thursdays and another at Underhill on Fridays, plus home visits.
The six part-time trainers – equivalent to two-and-a-half full-time posts – are backed up by volunteers who say they could not continue the support service on their own.
Since the service was started in co-operation with the NHS in 2014, over 1,500 young mums have been given advice, help and support to breastfeed their babies.
Rebekah Smith, who was helped by the service to breast feed her three children, is one of the volunteers at the forefront of the campaign, and says she deplores the lack of consultation from Barnet Council and its failure to respond to their demand for a rethink.
I raised this personally with the council leader, Richard Cornelius....He promised he would reply but I have heard nothing since...
“I raised this personally with the council leader, Richard Cornelius, when he addressed a residents’ meeting in Barnet in November at the Bull Theatre. He promised he would reply to residents’ questions, but I have heard nothing since.”
“We can’t get the council to tell us why they are closing the service, who made the decision, of what will happen next. All we know is that the £75,000 in funding is being withdrawn on March 31 and the six part-time staff will lose their jobs.”
Ms Smith said that the service was a life line for those young mothers desperate to breastfeed their babies.
“The NHS is so short staffed that many young mums go home with little understanding of breastfeeding.
Young mums can come to one of our drop-in centres on any day of the week and get support free of charge.”
Caroline Shillabber, another volunteer, urged Barnet Council to recognise that young mothers were vulnerable and needed support.
“No one has told us why these cuts are being made. The midwives tell use they had no idea Barnet Council was shutting down the service to make a quick saving.
“We have shown them today that young mums can organise themselves and we are determined to make our voice heard and for council to understand that we are not going to let this happen without a fight.”
Barnet breastfeeding won the NHS team of the year award from Central London Community Health Care in 2016, which Iman Hikal, the infant feeding lead at Barnet, says was a recognition of their care and enthusiasm for young mums in the borough.
“As the leader of the team, I recognise the anxiety among young mothers and our volunteers and we are waiting to hear from Barnet Council what will happen to the service in the future.”
In a statement, Barnet Council said it appreciated the concerns raised by the campaign:
“We want to reassure residents that breastfeeding support services will continue to be provided to mothers in Barnet after the contract with Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust comes to an end in April, and will complement the wider range of support on offer for children and families.
“We are currently working with the existing provider to ensure there is a smooth transition to the new service. This includes providing funding to maintain the role of a service co-ordinator for an additional six month period, to assist with specialist training and development.”
However, there was no clarification from the council as to who would provide the support service.
The campaign fears that the council intends to rely solely on volunteers to provide a replacement service, which the protestors say will struggle without the support of professional staff