Parents packed a council meeting to tell officials how important their children’s services are to families in Wandsworth.

Usually hosting just a handful of interested locals, the small committee room was full to bursting and a second room was used to screen the meeting to people unable to squeeze in.

Most of them were there to hear the Education and Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee discuss an upcoming shake-up of early years provision in the borough.

The council has consulted on a host of proposed changes, which the council says are especially to encourage the most disadvantaged families to seek help.

Rachel Egan, assistant director of early help, said some families – for example very young parents or parents whose child has special educational needs or disabilities – feel unwelcome at existing groups like the popular stay and play sessions.

But some parents are opposed to moving the existing universal sessions to a nearby school or library, as is proposed for the York Gardens Children’s Centre sessions.

Hannah Lake, who teaches children excluded from school, told the February 7 committee she was concerned the universal stay and play “is not being treated as a priority”.

She outlined how effective it currently is in pointing parents to other services, and said the library would not be a suitable substitute.

Speaking about the sessions currently run at York Gardens, she said: “Speaking as a teacher, having a baby brought me into contact with exceptional members of the teaching profession.

“It has been really striking, in terms of their responsive approach to teaching.

“I have never seen such sustained high quality of relationships with parents.

“Half a minute of someone giving informal information and advice is probably saving thousands of pounds for the council.”

Wandsworth’s cabinet member for education and children’s services, Cllr Sarah McDermott, said: “We know how important early learning is for families, which is why we are expanding and improving the services we offer at these children’s centres.

“We are committed to finding the best ways to have a really positive impact on the lives of all our younger children and their families but this is especially true of our most disadvantaged families who need the most help and support.

“And we know just how important and valued our popular “stay and play” services are within the community, which is why this crucial provision is being retained and enhanced as part of this wider package of improvements.”

Another mum, who goes to the Franciscan Centre in Tooting with her one and three-year-old children, spoke about how isolating it can be as a parent in London.

She said the current set-up is “vitally important”, and said the planned merger of services at the nearby Hillbrook centre and Tooting Library would not work.

Ms Egan said the merger would allow targeted sessions at Franciscan, hoping harder-to-reach families would benefit.

Council leader Ravi Govindia previously wrote to parents regarding stay and play at the children's centre at York Gardens.

Part of the letter read: "We need to expand the nursery that currently operates from the children’s centre building so that we can create more places for these children.

"Our aim is to provide these extra nursery places under the same roof as the baby clinic, heath visitor service and parenting classes which we know are well received and well used by local residents.

“Please rest assured that our goal is to increase access to early learning places for two-year-olds and to expand the number of venues where we provide early years opportunities like stay and play."