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Highbury Fields Bandstand facing closure after four decades

PUBLISHED: 15:28 15 February 2017 | UPDATED: 15:57 15 February 2017

Wilfred Hatchett, aged four, leads a protest against council cuts to Highbury Fields Bandstand. Picture: Polly Hancock

Wilfred Hatchett, aged four, leads a protest against council cuts to Highbury Fields Bandstand. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

Retiring school teachers often muse at how they’ve taught more than one generation of the same family. There’s a similar feeling with Highbury Fields Bandstand.

Former Islington Council leader Terry Stacy and current sole opposition Cllr Caroline Russell join parents and staff in a protest against the town hall's cuts to Highbury Fields Bandstand. Picture: Polly HancockFormer Islington Council leader Terry Stacy and current sole opposition Cllr Caroline Russell join parents and staff in a protest against the town hall's cuts to Highbury Fields Bandstand. Picture: Polly Hancock

This shabby cabin near the Fields’ tennis courts doesn’t look like much, but for the past 40 years, thousands of kids have spent their formative years here.

Open to any child under five and their parents, Bandstand offers play for just £2 a session. It meets six times a week, and in the last financial year, 4,820 people passed through its doors.

But management staff claim they are facing “likely closure” by April or May. Government cuts to local authorities have bitten. For the next financial year, Islington Council has been forced to reduce its Bandstand funding from £19,500 to £7,200.

Parents joined staff in a protest on Monday. Vicky Lawson, 28, of Monsell Road, Finsbury Park, used to go to Bandstand when she was a child. Now she takes her three-year-old daughter Daisy three times a week.

“This is all really sad,” she says. “Daisy loves it here. It’s built up her confidence before starting school in September. That’s so important.

“Also, we don’t have any garden space at home, so this is a place where she can run around outside.

“I really think Islington has let us down here. I will be devastated if it closes. Where else can you take your kids that is only £2 a session?”

Her mum, 61-year-old Julie Lawson, of Sable Street in Canonbury, said: “It has always been a community within a community. I met other parents when I used to take Vicky, and she is the same.

“Most of all, it’s an important part of a kid’s development. At home, I still have a framed picture of Vicky’s first painting that she did here!”

Three generations of Highbury Fields Bandstanders: Julie Lawson, Vicky Lawson and Daisy Martin. Picture: Polly HancockThree generations of Highbury Fields Bandstanders: Julie Lawson, Vicky Lawson and Daisy Martin. Picture: Polly Hancock

Sam Parrington, who has managed the not-for-profit Highbury Fields Bandstand for 15 years, has set up a petition calling on Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn to “save our bandstand from closure”.

The town hall’s funding proposal is enough to cover six hours and three sessions a week with one member of staff: half of the current offering.

And Sam claims the service would suffer as a result: “First of all, there would be concerns about safeguarding. Obviously, strangers are constantly walking through Highbury Fields. With only one staff member, we would have to keep the kids inside at all times. And that’s not what we are about.”

She adds: “I think closure would have a huge impact on the Islington community. So many parents have taken their children here after their parents took them as kids. It’s an old-fashioned community space.

“I just think we are being targeted for cuts because we don’t bring in revenue.”

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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