As Lambeth council prepares for yet more cuts across the whole range of its services, Laura Silva warns that the end of children’s one o’clock clubs would harm us all.
Like other parents and carers I was in tears saying goodbye to Swinda Mark, a children’s facilitator at the Max Roach one o’clock club at Wiltshire Road in Brixton.
Swinda had worked there for years, greeting everyone with a warm smile, playing with our children and often making a much needed cup of tea for exhausted parents. She was the reason why many came to the club and felt so welcomed.
With the withdrawal of Lambeth council funding for the Max Roach club, Loughborough Community Centre, which runs the club, was faced with a tough decision – cut staff numbers or possibly close completely.
Sadly, Max Roach will not be the only one faced with difficult decisions as Lambeth council is making drastic cuts to its children’s services, including the withdrawal of funding to all its adventure playgrounds and one o’ clock clubs.
So why should we be upset that one o’ clock clubs are disappearing from Brixton – quietly, slowly and without fuss?
For those who don’t know, one o’clock clubs offer stay-and-play sessions where children under five can play freely in a safe stimulating environment.
For many parents and carers in Brixton like me who live in small flats with no garden, they are a godsend and a sanity saver. A place where my toddler can experiment with sand, get creative with paint and learn to ride a tricycle safely outside.
It’s a place where they can meet other children from all sorts of backgrounds and learn to interact and, hopefully, share. It’s a place to play but also, importantly, to learn.
Obviously the council will say there are other activities available for under-5s in Brixton. There are. But these activities are not always affordable or that accessible to all. The beauty of the one o’ clock clubs like Max Roach is that they are free. It’s open to all children and their carers without questions or any terms and conditions. There are no barriers; you just turn up with your child and let them play. Everyone is welcome.
For the past year I’ve been grateful to Max Roach one o’clock club for welcoming me and introducing me to my community and neighbours.
Becoming a parent for the first time is hard. Through Max Roach I met some amazing mums and dads and learnt a lot. At a time when Brixton is dividing socially and the community seems to be fragmenting, we need clubs like Max Roach to act as community centres that bring everyone, especially children, together.
I do not know whether Lambeth council has considered the long-term consequences of its decisions for families in Brixton. Or if Young Lambeth Cooperative (YLC), which now makes decisions on children’s services, truly understands the benefits of play to development in early years and what play can do to improve the life chances of our kids.
Nor do I understand how the “other providers” will plug the gap in funding as every sector seems to be squeezed.
All I know is that, as a mum who is proud to be a part of this vibrant and diverse community, I can’t help feel that the demise of the one o’ clock clubs ultimately hurts us all and we should fight for them as much as we fight to keep our libraries.
Max Roach one o’clock club, Wiltshire Road. Open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons.