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Last stand for Highbury Fields Bandstand?

Popular charity told 'out of the blue' that it faces having to move out

26 July, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Bandstand workers Lorraine Bywater and Sam Parrington

CHARITY workers are in shock after they were told by the council that they will be made homeless.

The future of the Highbury Fields Bandstand, which operates the popular One O’Clock Club for under-fives, is on a knife-edge after staff were called in by Town Hall officers “out of the blue” to be told the council does not believe their building will be viable for much longer.

The council was accused of “cloak and dagger” behaviour after neither the ward councillors nor the Friends of Highbury Fields (FHF) community group were contacted. FHF was set up in 2016 to ensure the community was involved in deciding how a half-a-million-pound pot earmarked for Highbury Fields was spent.

The council consulted on several plans to regenerate the Bandstand, Oasis Cafe and Keeper’s Hut.

Sam Parrington and Lorraine Bywater, the Bandstand’s current custodians, were under the impression that some of this cash would be spent on securing the future of the building.

But they were thrown “into a panic” after the meeting with the Early Years department on Tuesday.

Bandstand manager Ms Parrington said: “It’s a bit of a shock really, a lot of families rely on us.

“A lot of people who live in council flats and high-rises can use the garden. We are all up in the air about it. We haven’t got a time, date or names [in connection with the closure]. I have tried to call so many people and nobody has got back to me. They [the council] said we’re now effectively homeless.”

A Bandstand protest in 2017

The charity has had the lease on the bandstand for more than 40 years on a peppercorn rent. They are part-funded by the council and the rest they raise from parents, patrons and fundraising events.

Parents can drop off their children for £2, or pay nothing if they can’t afford it.

As the Tribune reported in 2017, the council slashed £12,500 from the £19,500 funding they previously put in.

The council said it continues to support the One O’Clock Club, but Ms Parrington believes that if they are moved to another building the rent will suck up all their funds.

She added: “I am gutted. I have been here 17 years, and a colleague for 13 years. We feel like part of the community. Parents who could have been isolated have had our support and we have made solid, long-term relationships. Anything parents are going through we have tried to support them.”

Highbury East ward councillor Caroline Russell said: “I attempted to find out what was happening in the council – no one has been available to brief me since this happened. This is the council not behaving properly in the decision-making process. This cloak and dagger stuff is not OK.”

Kate Pothalingam, a co-founder of FHF, said: “Given the extensive, and probably expensive, council-lead consultation on its plans to improve the buildings on Highbury Fields, it is particularly disappointing that the One O’clock Club were not given any warning of this decision. Nor have local people been consulted about the council’s change of approach. What has happened to transparency and accountability in Highbury East?”

A council spokesman said: “Unfortunately, the Bandstand building is in such poor condition that small-scale improvement or remodelling work to extend its use in the medium term would not be cost-effective – although short-term repairs will be made where feasible.”

He added: “We will be exploring all alternative options with the provision in the coming weeks and months and will continue to closely monitor the condition of the Bandstand building in the meantime, to ensure it remains a safe and suitable place for families to use. To be clear, no decision has been taken at this point to condemn or close the building.”

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