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Cuts-hit playgroup warns: We are living on a wing and prayer

Bandstand fears it may have to shut after more than 40 years at Highbury Fields

19 October, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

Manager Sam Parrington and deputy manager Lorraine O’Leary: ‘We are limping through at the moment’

A HIGHBURY Fields drop-in play service for families has said it may only have six months left after cuts to its budget.

The Bandstand has been a familiar sight at the Fields for more than 40 years, offering cheap stay-and-play services for children under the age of five.

But last year its budget was slashed by the Town Hall from £19,500 to £7,200 – with a one-off extra payment of £7,200.

This year, it was left with just £7,200 and shorter opening hours.

Aside from a free revamp from Highbury Corner bridge replacement contractor Hoch­tief, which gave the service some extra time, all external funding applications have been unsuccessful.

Sam Parrington, manager for 15 years, said: “We are limping through at the moment. It’s a real shame. It has been in the community for going on 50 years now.

“We haven’t got a date that we will shut yet, but if it’s going to happen it will be in six months. We are living on a wing and a prayer and hoping for the best. If we close it will be a big loss to the community.”

Parents – some who joined staff in protests against the cuts in 2017 – pay just £2 a day. Unlike some nurseries, the drop-in group is open during school holidays.

Highbury Fields Bandstand has been making extra income from hiring the venue out for parties.

Ms Parrington, one of two members of staff, said: “The most important thing we see is how it helps mums, dads and grandparents, specifically new mums who feel isolated.

“We’ve seen some amazing new friendships being built here.

“We used to have longer hours in the summer, but we have not done that in the last two years as we could not afford it.”

She also questioned the progress with the Highbury Fields building improvement plan, to revamp buildings in that part of the park.

Proposals went out to consultation before May’s local elections, but the council said there is currently no update.

An Islington Council spokesperson said: “We recognise the value of ‘stay-and-play’ sessions to parents in Islington, and will continue to fund all those currently receiving our support.

“But the council faces massive ongoing budget cuts from central government, and has to make unprecedented savings.

“In April 2017, the funding was reduced across all other similar providers.

“As we said at the time, we cannot support these services to the same extent in future – the Bandstand will receive the same hourly rate and be funded for the same number of hours as all other providers we support.

“This would still allow for a good spread of stay-and-play provision in the area, even with budget reductions.

“We very much want Highbury Fields Bandstand to continue and are continuing to work with them to help find other funding sources.”

To donate to the Bandstand funds, visit www.justgiving.com/highbury-bandstand

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