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‘Lifeline’ Highbury Bandstand could be closed

Parents fight to save not-for-profit service for under-5s as council slashes its funding by 70%

17 February, 2017 — By Joe Cooper

Parents and campaigners who are calling for the Highbury Fields Bandstand drop-in service to be kept open

BANDSTAND, the Highbury Fields drop-in service that has been used for next to nothing by generations of Islington families, is in danger of closing after the Town Hall slashed its funding by 70 per cent.

Parents have rallied around a service they describe as a “lifeline”. It has been a familiar sight on Highbury Fields for more than 40 years.

The not-for-profit service for under-5s, used by more than 3,000 children last year, costs £32,000 per year to run. Islington Council have previously backed it to the tune of £19,500, with fundraising by staff and parents making up the rest.

But the council have slashed £12,500, cutting one of only two paid members of staff, and proposing that it opens for just six hours a week instead of 17.5.

“This will devastate us,” said manager Sam Parrington. “The Bandstand is a huge part of the Islington community. Many of our users are isolated, first-time mums who feel unsure and nervous and need a place where they aren’t judged and are supported by staff and other parents.”

The cut to the council’s Early Years department has also affected the Early Years Hub, the One O’Clock Club and the early morning drop-ins in Whittington Park, run by the Whittington Park Community Association. Staff said it is a “huge disappointment” that they will only be able to open for 11 to 12 hours per week from April.

Ms Parrington added: “This cut means likely closure by April or May unless we can reverse their decision, or find revenue from other sources, which all the other groups which have been cut are also fighting for.

Jessica Aldous with her children Ruby and Jacob

“As usual the council are cutting funding to voluntary sector and community groups, those on the ground level who deal with a myriad of people with complex needs but do not bring the council revenue.”

Parents pay just £2 per day and, unlike many private nurseries, it is open during the school holidays.

Jessica Aldous’s children, Ruby and Jacob, both attend the Bandstand.

“This is a total lifeline for mothers with babies and toddlers,” she said. “So many of the people I know I have met here.”

All three of Tracy Tucker’s children passed through the Bandstand.

“This is such an important part of the community,” the Canonbury Primary nursery teacher said.

“It’s somewhere kids can feel safe. Why shouldn’t they have somewhere like this?”

Islington Council are carrying out a wider consultation on the future of the north-east end of Highbury Fields and proposing to build a single large centre to replace the tired-looking Bandstand and Oasis Cafe.

The Bandstand’s management have been left confused as the council’s parks depart­ment have said they can stay in the new building with their peppercorn rent, but the Early Years department have slashed their funding.

Highbury resident and former council leader Terry Stacy said: “It’s shameful that they are facing this cut. The council needs to be clear about the criteria it has used to come to this decision.”

Opposition councillor Caroline Russell said: “This is a really important community facility where parents and children can feel safe.”

An Islington Council spokesman 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.

“We cannot support these services to the same extent in future – although 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 the budget reductions.

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

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