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Parents left ‘gutted’ as Bandstand closes

Virus was ‘final nail in coffin’ for stay-and-play club

08 January, 2021 — By Calum Fraser

Sam Parrington and Lorraine O’Leary

A BELOVED children’s stay-and-play centre which has been a lifeline for families for almost 50 years has been forced to close for good.

The Highbury Fields Bandstand shut its doors permanently on December 31 and the keys for the building are set to be handed back to the council next week.

It marks the end of a long-running campaign to save it and the One O’Clock Club service it provides to under-fives.

The council earmarked the site for demolition in 2017.

“We’re heartbroken but we had no choice,” said Sam Parrington, who is one of only two paid staff running the club.

“They [the council] have been asking us to move out of the building for so long now anyway and Covid has been the nail in the coffin. So we are closed. It’s a real shame for families, we are all gutted.”

Around 3,000 children were using the service each year which cost as little as £2 a session and ran during the holidays as well.

The Bandstand building in Highbury Fields

The Bandstand building has been in a poor condition for many years and Ms Parrington and her colleague Lorraine O’Leary had hoped the council would fund a refurbishment as part of a wider regeneration of the north-west corner of Highbury Fields

But the most recent proposals would see the Bandstand flattened and a new cafe building constructed.

Blackstock Road mother-of-two Vicky Lawson, who was brought to the bandstand as a child by her parents, said: “It’s so sad. We have been fighting and fighting for ages to get the funding to keep it open. I am so thankful to Sam and Lorraine for everything they have done, not just making it a lovely stay-and-play, but also for being there for me. As a single mum it was really difficult sometimes.”

Mother-of-two Emma Dumbleton, who lives in Hornsey Rise, said: “I am gutted. With my first child, who is five, we were there three times a week and she loved it there. She always looked forward to it. I’ve not broken the news to her yet.”

The service was open every afternoon, but to make ends meet the pair rented out the space to other groups when they were not using it. With the lockdown, that was no longer possible and funding from the council, which was slashed in 2017, was not enough to sustain the service any longer.

Environment chief Cllr Rowena Champion said it was “very sad” that a “dearly loved service” would be lost, but added: “We remain committed to offering stay-and-play facilities in Highbury, and will look for other providers to help meet the demand in the area.”

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