Saturday, 24 October 2015

After School and Holiday Provision since INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE CHILD

Last weekend I attended a sad but beautiful Mad Hatters Tea Party at Belgrave Playhouse, 132 Harrison Road, Leicester. It was to celebrate the work of mural artist Gilly Walton who had designed and created the vibrant colours of the Playhouse and filled every space with meaningful pictures - mostly of people connected with the Playhouse, although often changed and placed in different times and situations. Sadly Gilly died earlier this year and the Mad Hatters Tea Party was to say goodbye. It came at a low point for the Playhouse which faces a massive funding crisis and the severe debilitating illness of its founder and visionary Sue Ranger. I hope for better times ahead.
I remember the first time I saw 132 Harrison Road. It was full of coal dust and cobwebs and we needed a torch, but although part of a row of small houses this one had space. It had been the coal merchants house and shop. It had extra rooms above the place where the carts loaded with full or empty sacks of coal would have come in and out. It had a yard where the coal and the carts were stored. It had stables at the back complete with their Edwardian fittings.
Why was I there? In 1978 I'd left my post as Training Officer for London Adventure Playground Association (LAPA) to study for a postgraduate Diploma in Child Development at London University Institute of Education. I was taking the opportunity to do this in the last year before the retirement of course head Margaret Roberts, whom I'd met when I persuaded her to teach sessions about Child Development on my course for play workers. My dissertation was entitled 'The After School Activities & Interests of Primary Age Children in a Multi Ethnic Area'. I was due to complete my academic work in the summer of 1979, International Year of the Child (IYC).
In the late spring UK IYC in conjunction with BASSAC (The British Association of Settlements & Social Action Centres) advertised for someone to coordinate the UK IYC response to the issue of what were then called LATCHKEY CHILDREN. They were asking for research skills and knowledge of Children's Play needs and provision. I juggled the remainder of my course with my sudden elevation to a job in the public eye, with an office at 85 Whitehall. (My dissertation was submitted late and passed but I never had time to bind a copy for senate house library - it's still in my attic and I hope still intact). The Guardian Newspaper announced that UK IYC had funds donated by companies and the public available for embryonic schemes to help Latchkey Children. The applications exceeded expectations and available funds. We could have given all of them a tiny sum which would maybe have bought a modest climbing frame or a few months supply of arts & crafts materials but I argued that this wouldn't be remembered and an International Year should develop something which would create a legacy by demonstrating good practice for others replicate.
Gerald Conynghan of Save the Children Fund, one of the financial admin people for UK IYC and I embarked on a whistlestop tour of the UK vetting dozens of applicants to find our special demonstration projects.
We walked into a dark dingy church hall in Leicester where we were served Masala tea and Popadoms by a group of people, mixed in age, race and lifestyle, but committed to a common cause of developing a community play facility for the people of Belgrave. Their leader was the indomitable Sue Ranger. They took us to look at their after school club in temporary premises and showed us the coal merchants house in Harrison Road. That became our biggest investment with two lesser projects at the Thamesmead Community Centre in South London and Barton Hill Settlement in Bristol.
Working with local contacts was crucial to the develooment of these three projects. We were fortunate with Belgrave Playhouse in that former play leader Steve Rennie was employed as Recreation Officer for the City of Leicester and the East Midlands representative for the National Playing Fields Association was Rob Wheway whom I'd worked with on training initiatives when I was at LAPA. In Thamesmead all went well under the watchful eye of the local vicar Rev Jim Thompson but the administration crumbed after he was promoted and moved away to become Bishop of Stepmey. The scheme in Bristol was well supported both by BASSAC through the Barton Hill Settlement and by the vibrant Bristol Play Association.
There was a little money left over for small donations to other projects and before long there were further funds from the Baring Foundation and Marks & Spencers.
We worked closely with a small group of MPs including Harriet Harman, Alf (now Lord) Dubs, Peter Hardy, Linda Chalker and Sir Nicholas (later Lord) Lyell QC. Nick Lyell's wife was a community worker in an area where an enclave of poverty was hidden in a seemingly well heeled area so he possibly understood the issues best of all. Harriet was keen for provision to help working mothers but had less awareness of what the children needed by way of support and stimulation. Alf successfully balloted for an Adjournment Debate and I raided my dissertation for material with which to brief speakers of both major parties - it was all coming together when the year was due to come to an end, but the ever resourceful Clive Jordan of BASSAC found a source of trust funding for the IYC Latchkey Project to metamorphose into the BASSAC Out of School Project to enable us to push for political change, procure funds for other projects and support our three special projects.

(C) Jan Loxley Blount