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Parents in desperate appeal to save ‘lifeline’ cafe in Paradise Park

PUBLISHED: 17:29 26 April 2017 | UPDATED: 17:29 26 April 2017

Parents and cafe users with campaign placards outside the cafe in Paradise Park. Picture: Polly Hancock

Parents and cafe users with campaign placards outside the cafe in Paradise Park. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Devastated parents have made a desperate attempt to stop the closure of a children’s centre cafe that has for years acted as a sanctuary during hard times.

Paradise Park cafe user E.J. and son Monty, 15 months. Picture: Polly HancockParadise Park cafe user E.J. and son Monty, 15 months. Picture: Polly Hancock

The Paradise Park Children’s Centre Cafe is set to close on Friday because the charity that runs it, Islington Play Association (IPA), needs it for office space after being forced out of West Library.

Council funding has dried up due to severe government cuts, and from September some services currently run by the charity will be brought back in house.

That will see some of the massively in-demand sessions at Paradise Park relocated to community centres and libraries, though the childcare and nursery education will remain.

But parents, who found out about the cafe’s closure with one week’s notice, feel its value as a social hub for mums dealing with depression, domestic violence, bereavement and other issues has been overlooked.

Parents and cafe users with campaign placards outside the cafe in Paradise Park. Front from left Rosie Horridge, Loriana Valdes and Patricia Bytautiere. Picture: Polly HancockParents and cafe users with campaign placards outside the cafe in Paradise Park. Front from left Rosie Horridge, Loriana Valdes and Patricia Bytautiere. Picture: Polly Hancock

For EJ Lawrence, it has been a lifeline. EJ first went to the centre a year ago when her baby Monty was three months old.

“My personal circumstances are really difficult,” she told the Gazette. “The day my baby was born he was taken away from me with septicaemia, then 24 hours later my brother died unexpectedly.

“Then my partner got cancer and had to go to hospital, and he never came out. I have no family in this country, no partner, no money. It was massively overwhelming. I’ve got friends but they are at work all day.

“Someone suggested I go to the new mum’s group and they were so welcoming. Literally the minute you walk in the door they are really positive.

“I had really bad post-natal depression and it was too hard to just walk into a group. I couldn’t go back because it was too hard to walk into a room full of people where everyone else was having a positive experience and I was really broken.

“So I’d go and sit in the cafe with mums going to different groups. You can just be having a coffee but you’re still benefiting from being around people.

“For me it’s been an absolute lifeline. I was going through bereavement, but had also gone through domestic violence. This was my first relationship since that one. The saviour of men, and then he was gone.

“It’s really a place of sanctuary. People are often afraid to talk about issues in the groups but in the cafe people will. It’s a really powerful tool for including people who would have difficulty attending large group settings.”

A petition set up to stop the closure has gathered 400 signatures in less than a week. Loriana Valdes, who started it, struggled as a first-time mum and says going to the centre three times a week has helped her become stronger.

Another mum, Patricia Bytautiene, said there had been tears over the last week as people come to terms with the closure.

She said: “People from different walks of life can chat, some parents are victims of domestic violence and will talk about it.

“The staff are really helpful and caring. It’s a place where most of us can find the time to chill for a bit.”

Islington Council and the IPA confirmed some services would move in September, but denied rumours Paradise Park, or any of the 15 other children’s centres, would be closing.

In a joint statement they said: “Paradise Park cafe is closing for May. We understand this may disappoint parents.

“We appreciate families value the services, but we know there are families on our estates who don’t visit children’s centres and would benefit from better access to services outside these venues. Despite deep government funding cuts, which have caused other services to close elsewhere, we remain dedicated to ensuring Islington children have the best possible start in life.”

The petition can be viewed here.


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