Playgroup safe for next year

Catherine Lyness.
Catherine Lyness.

Ashgrove Playgroup has said it is delighted that its future has been secured until next March at least.

The playgroup was informed recently that additional government funding had been found for it and other Early Years organisations.

It means that 48 children will be able to take up their places next month at the playgroup which is based in Ashgrove Community Centre.

There had been fears that the group would be forced to halve its numbers to 24 and lose a staff member if the cuts went ahead.

Said playgroup manager Catherine Lyness, “We are over the moon. If we had cut those places, where would the 24 children have gone? There is nowhere else in the area.”

Back in May, with the cuts looming, Catherine and her colleagues organised an information day to warn local people of the funding threat and also circulated a petition, which garnered 2,000 signatures and many positive messages of support.

Said Catherine, “We had a comment from one grandmother who said her children had gone to Ashgrove Playgroup 20 years ago.”

Catherine posted the petition directly to Minister O’Dowd, with a letter explaining the impact any cuts would have.

The playgroup, which has eight staff and 48 children, must find enough money each year to cover staff salaries, £8,000 rent for the two community centre rooms and insurance costs.

Despite the funding reprieve, the playgroup is still having to raise the weekly fee for children from £25 to £30 in September.

Sinn Fein councillor Gemma McKenna, who was one of the first children to go to the playgroup 24 years ago, welcomed the extra Early Years funding.

She said, “Ashgrove Playgroup has served the community for over 20 years and it is great to see that their services have been protected by the Minister until March 2016.

“Undoubtedly due to ongoing Tory cuts there are tough times ahead for us all.

“Through continued campaigning we must all work together to ensure the departments have the funding they need to provide the services for communities.”

Meanwhile, the playgroup will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year, with a big celebration planned for March.