Highbury Fields Bandstand told its building will likely be closed down
PUBLISHED: 17:39 23 July 2019 | UPDATED: 18:56 23 July 2019
Managers who spent years fighting to save a vital children's centre in Highbury Fields were told this morning the organisation would likely be left homeless.
Highbury Fields Bandstand has been a pillar of the community for more than four decades, providing early years support services to thousands of parents and kids each year through its One O'Clock Club.
But manager Sam Parrington and her team were stunned to be told today an improvement project for the park would no longer include their building, which would likely be condemned instead.
It follows a tough few years for the centre, which in 2017 had its funding cut by Islington Council from £19,500 to £7,200.
"We are really pissed off. We didn't expect it at all," said Sam, who's been in charge 17 years. "They said they are going to come in and most likely condemn it because it's so old. We've supported families in this area for years.
"They said they haven't got anywhere for us to go and that we'd need to look for places for funding to build a new building. We suggested a portacabin in the park but they said no."
The Bandstand was part of Islington Council's £550,000 improvement project announced last year, to be paid for with Section 106 money - cash taken from developers to mitigate building work.
A consultation listed five options, including moving the "poor quality" Bandstand and the neighbouring Oasis Cafe buildings into one new site, replacing them or remodelling them. But the project was shelved earlier this year, with the council saying it was "reviewing the scope".
Sam says she was told the Bandstand would still be given cash to improve the building and keep the service running, but now council officers have told her that's not the case, and only The Oasis Cafe will be kept.
The closure will be devastating, Sam said. She added: "They are cutting more and more children's services. I know this is an affluent area but there are still people round here that haven't got a lot of money and can't afford £15 for a music lesson.
"It's £2 to come here and if you haven't got it you don't pay. We do signposting for mums experiencing domestic violence and for people in poverty.
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"I think it's quite disgusting the council are putting a cafe before services for young children. It's no wonder they are ending up on the streets shooting and stabbing each other."
Highbury East's Green councillor Caroline Russell, who has campaigned in support of the centre, said she was "livid" and slammed the council for not informing her of the decision.
She told the Gazette: "It was my understanding that while there had been discussions around reallocating the funding, which I disagreed with, the idea had been dropped.
"I am astonished officers felt it was appropriate to make this decision and share it with staff without consulting ward councillors.
"I have attempted to find someone at the council to discuss this with but they are all apparently either on leave or in meetings.
"As the only non-Labour member of Islington Council [until last week] the way I've been repeatedly cut out of decisions, meetings and important correspondence is disgraceful. This is no way to run a council."
Former Lib Dem council leader Terry Stacy planned to improve the Bandstand building before the new Labour administration scrapped the project in 2010, and has since campaigned alongside Cllr Russell.
"They've been stabbed in the back," he said. "This is death by a thousand cuts from Labour. They have allowed that building to decay, slowly but surely."
Islington Council said the 70 per cent cuts to council funding from the government since 2010 meant the scheduled redevelopment of the buildings could not go ahead as planned.
A spokesperson added: "The One O'Clock Club is a popular and valued part of our children's provision in the area, and we want to help secure its future. We have no plans to stop funding its excellent work.
"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.
"We will be exploring all alternative options with the nursery and in the meantime will continue to closely monitor the condition of the building to ensure it remains a safe and suitable place for families."