‘It’s a lifeline’: Families call for support to keep free children’s charity open

A charity which offers free activities and holiday clubs for young people is calling on the community to help save its playground from closing down due to funding shortages and disrepair.

Big Up Communities (BUC) is a not-for-profit organisation that offers free activities and holiday clubs for young people and their families at the Stewarts Road Adventure Playground in Nine Elms, Battersea.

The playground is in need of essential repairs and safety maintenance, to ensure the charity can continue operating from the site.

The charity is funded by The Million Hours Fund – The National lottery community fund – and The Lightbulb Trust. But this funding is restricted to running the youth activities and the charity says it is struggling to get funding for building costs and maintenance.

Peggy Shimmin, 41, of BUC, said: “The playground is a very special place, filled with potential and it would be awful to have to close it when it’s a lifeline for so many families. 

“Our team has a broad range of skills that go beyond youth work, including filmmaking, music production, singing, songwriting and art. 

“This means we can offer free specialist activities that are often too expensive for families.”

From left, Oscar Terranova-Lozana, Lazaro Breda, Harvey Campbell and Darryl McMukama on the BUC playground slide (Picture: @Yomi.Kadejo)

Ms Shimmin said BUC has “exhausted” all temporary options and the roof of the building in the playground where it hosts holiday clubs is now past repair and needs to be completely replaced, at an estimated cost of about £20,000.

London Play – a charity which supports children’s play in London with funding – has helped fit a temporary “shower cap” to the roof to stop leaking – but this will only keep the water out for a limited time, Ms Shimmin said.

Holly Strzechowska, 14, who is a regular at the Battersea playground, said: “The staff there are really nice.

“Peggy is great, she always takes care of everyone and she gave me a chance to have fun over the half-term, otherwise I would be at home and bored.”

Parents are also calling on the community to help save what they describe as a “lifeline” of free childcare.

The building in the playground. The roof has been secured with a “shower cap” funded by London Play (Picture: BUC)

Pauline Avenell, 57, said: “As a parent of a young person with additional needs, the Stewarts Adventure playground is a lifeline for me.

“This fundraiser is so important.”

Agnieszka Strzechowska, 41, is a single mother who has been taking her daughters to the playground for four years. 

She said: “The playground has been a lifesaver for me. As a single mother, it’s challenging to keep my two daughters entertained affordably during half-term and holidays. 

“The club offers everything my children need and more, their insight into children with ADHD and ASD is remarkable. 

“I have peace of mind knowing my children are safe and understood by the team. I couldn’t manage without it.”

It comes as the childcare sector across the country faces immense challenges as the number of childcare providers is falling, mainly because of childminders leaving the profession.

​​In just one year, between March 2022 and 2023, registered childminders in England fell by 3,500 – meaning a loss of more than 20,000 childcare places, data from Ofsted shows.

Children and BUC staff during an MMA session at the playground (Picture: @Yomi.Kadejo)

The most recent figures show there are 334,000 early-years workers, down 10,000 on the peak seen in 2019.

BUC said it needs to raise a target of £30,000 in funding for the repairs.

To get a kick-start, the charity has organised two fundraisers – a relaxation wellness session on May 9 and a one-man show by Peter Searels on May 30. Both events will be held at  St John’s Community Development Project in Clapham Road, Brixton.

A GoFundMe page has also been set up which has already received £1,410 in donations.

To donate Click Here.

Pictured top: Yessica Ottey joins in with arts and crafts at Stewarts Road Adventure Playground (Picture: @Yomi.Kadejo)

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