A children’s centre in Abbey Wood in danger of closure due to a council rent hike has been given a vital lifeline after a charity stepped in to offer it short-term funding.
Greenwich Toy and Leisure Library is a vital lifeline for families of children with special needs, offering them somewhere safe to play without judgement.
The charity has been operating for nearly 50 years but faces closure next month as Greenwich Council, which is blaming government cutbacks, says it will no longer be funding a cheap rent for the building in Abbey Grove.
Fearing closure, parents, volunteers and workers have been petitioning the council to make a U-turn as the charity already struggles to make ends meet without a 130 per cent rent hike.
Following last month’s story, Hornchurch-based charity Joni’s Army was tipped off by Plumstead resident Kim Hastings, and it quickly offered vital cash to keep the charity running for a few more months whilst the long-term future is decided.
Joni’s Army was started by mother-of-three Holly Stevens, whose nine-year-old daughter Joni passed away after contracting a rare bone cancer. It raises funds for children who fall outside the NHS’s umbrella, handing out hundreds of thousands of pounds in Joni’s honour.
Speaking at the facility, Holly said: “My daughter passed away nearly four years ago and we had lots of money that we wanted to do nice things with for other people. We set out in Joni’s name to do that.
“This is an amazing place. I don’t imagine there are many facilities in the area that are like this.”
Joni’s Army trustee and university lecturer Lee Brown added: “When you see what they do here it is a much, much needed service for families. A lot of people in general don’t realise until it happens to them. It’s nice to help people like this who do not need the problems they are being given.”
The centre’s manager, Deborah Cavill, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “To receive a call out of the blue from Joni’s Army is truly amazing. We thought the response from the petition was fantastic, but this charity’s generosity is unbelievable, and we are all elated. We cannot believe our good fortune.”
Parents have been critical of Greenwich Council and feel the centre’s service is being left behind compared with other projects. It was commissioned by the council to carry out summer activities, but the partnership has since ceased.
In a statement, Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe said that it was agreed the council would subsidise rent until March, when it would then increase to a market rent.
The leader said: “We understand that Greenwich Toy and Leisure Library provided a valuable service to the local community, but we cannot continue to subsidise rent on this building to a service we have since decommissioned.
“Having used feedback from children and parents and carers, the new programme provides at least 500 more short break places than the previous one and we are confident in the positive impact this will have for local families.”
Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
See more about how 853 uses LDRS content.
853 produces public interest journalism for Greenwich and SE London and is part-funded by its readers. If you would like to contribute to keeping the site running, please…
– join well over 100 monthly patrons at www.patreon.com/853.
– make a one-off contribution at paypal.me/853london