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Highbury Fields Bandstand play service faces the axe

Popular club for children to make way for ‘trendy café’ as Town Hall confirms demolition

07 February, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Sam Parrington and Lorraine O’Leary, the One O’Clock Club’s only paid staff members

A TREASURED “stay and play” service for families at Highbury Fields is set to be demolished and replaced with a “trendy” café.

Islington Council chiefs confirmed this week that the Highbury Bandstand, home of the One O’Clock Club, will be pulled down.

The popular service, which allows parents to take young children along for a few hours every day, will be forced to move out next year.

Sam Parrington and Lorraine O’Leary, who are the club’s only paid staff members at the council-owned Bandstand, told the Tribune they felt as if they had been “ambushed” by the Town Hall after a meeting this week.

And they say they are “disgusted” that money was being pumped into “another trendy café” on the site instead of investing in children’s services.

Ms Parrington said: “They are decimating the service. They are taking this vital service away. We were disgusted when they told us about the plans. Apparently having a coffee shop is more important than children’s services.”

She added: “They were coming up with excuses like it was better for the elderly and for the wider community. Who wants another trendy café around here? Do you know how many there are in Upper Street and Highbury Barn, where it costs £5 for a coffee? We sell coffee here for 50p and if the parents can’t afford it we will give it to them for free.”

The council has grouped the bandstand together with the Oasis café and park-keeper’s hut as buildings in need of refurbishment. They all stand in close proximity at the north-west section of the park.

The current proposals would see the bandstand flattened, replaced with a garden meadow, and the square footage added to an enlarged and regenerated café building.

Highbury Fields’ Bandstand building looks set to be pulled down

Town Hall chiefs met with the pair on Friday and told them they would be offered nine hours a week in the Christ Church Community Hall to run the club.

After their budget was slashed in 2017, instead of reducing their hours the pair supplemented their revenue by sub-letting the bandstand for events. This allowed them to sustain a daily service, although they still had to cut some hours and take on second and third jobs.

But they will not be able to do this under the new arrangement.

Ms O’Leary, who has worked at the bandstand for 13 years, said: “When they told us, I was so angry. And gutted. We have given so much of our lives to this place and now it’s going to be wiped out.”

The bandstand building, where the stay and play service has been for almost 50 years, is in a state of disrepair.

The pair claimed in July last year that they had been told it was going to be demolished, but the council came back and said that this was not the case and that they were still consulting on their plans. Six months later, the council has confirmed plans to bring in a bulldozer.

The Tribune revealed last year how Islington has spent more than £60,000 on consultations and surveys of the site.

It is estimated that it would cost £1.6million to demolish and regenerate the whole site, which is £1,150,000 over the council’s budget.

They have now brought forward plans to regenerate and expand the café and are seeking new funding for this with a decision set for the end of the month. A consultation will be held in the summer on these plans.

Environment chief Councillor Rowena Champion said: “We have worked hard to ensure that vital stay and play sessions can continue to be provided locally by the Highbury Fields Bandstand Group.

“These proposals would see them operating in a brand-new facility as soon as it is ready, and allow our ambitions for the wider building project in Highbury Fields to move forwards.”

She added: “We will continue to work closely with the Bandstand group, Christ Church Highbury and local residents on any outstanding issues to make the transition as smooth and successful as possible for everyone.”

Ms Parrington and Ms O’Leary have set up a crowdfunding page in a bid to raise £100,000 which they say could save the bandstand.

To donate, go to and search “Highbury Fields bandstand”.

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