Save Ballymacarrett Playzone

The fight to save Playzone, an after-schools service located in the Ballymac Centre in East Belfast, has reached a critical stage. The Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister  have only offered a three-month emergency package after the Department of Health cut funding to the project. With Playzone costing the executive a paltry £60,000 a year, long term funding for the project must be secured.

The local community has been hit hard recently with the additional closures of Beechfield Primary school and Balymacarrett Library nearby. Parents and staff responded to silence from the Assembly Executive by calling a public meeting and holding a number of protests blocking the Newtownards Road.

The service currently provides programmes to 38 children from a disadvantaged area, including homework support, healthy eating and PE. Playzone is however equally essential to parents as it enables them to work, providing affordable childcare at a rate of £1.50 per child per day. At the meeting, one parent summed up their plight, “If Playzone is closed I will loose my childcare, if I loose my childcare I will loose my job, if I loose my job, I can’t pay the mortgage, if I cant pay my mortgage I will loose my home.”

At the meeting local councillors and MLA’s were invited to join a committee to organise the campaign. Politicians from the Executive parties are however now putting pressure on the management to increase parental fees and accept reduced funding. This will effectively mean some local families will have to pull their children out of Playzone. It is also another means of pushing through the cuts and must be opposed.

These politicians are only interested in managing the cuts – they all voted them through, and thus don’t want a democratically controlled local campaign. All they are now offering is a choice between a reduced service or closure. What is needed is a genuinely democratic campaign, uniting Playzone workers, children, parents and local residents and a return to militant tactics as the best method of saving this service. The recent victory in July of the campaign to save three special needs summer schemes threatened with closure in Lisburn, Newry and Armagh, each costing £150,000 a year, points to the success of this approach. A campaign of people power can force back this attack on the basic rights of residents to decent quality childcare. 

 

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