Popular play schemes cut in North Herts

A POPULAR play project in North Herts which provides after-school sessions for children and teenagers will be cut this summer due to lack of funding.

North Herts District Council (NHDC) is axing its four schemes in the area, which include Purwell Stay and Play Project and Westmill Play Project in Hitchin and Icknield Play Project in Letchworth GC. There is also a youth club in Royston which will be cut.

The schemes, which are aimed at children between the ages of three and 13, attract more than 200 youngsters a week.

They will cease to operate next month.

Cllr Joan Kirby said: “I’m terribly concerned about these play programmes being withdrawn.

“Many of the children who use it need all the help they can get to stop them getting into trouble as they get a bit older.

“We need to keep them on board and occupied and many of these children don’t even have the chance to get any holidays or other opportunities as it is.”

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The programme costs NHDC around �30,000 a year, in which seven after school sessions are held a week.

The decision has been met with anger by opposition councillors, who claim that the decision was not run past local councillors or area committees.

Cllr Gary Grindal said: “Once again, we see the cutting of another much valued local service without any thought for impact.

“We all know that there have to be cuts, but surely it is not too much to ask that councillors be given an opportunity to consider this matter, particularly where services for young people are concerned.”

NHDC said that it was unable to continue the scheme because it had its lottery funding cut.

It had secured funding from a number of smaller grants to allow the projects to remain open until the end of this summer.

Cllr Tricia Cowley, NHDC portfolio holder for community engagement said: “It is a great shame that we are unable to continue to provide these play projects which have been funded through external grants since they began in 2007.

“Councillors have always known that the money for these projects came from external sources and, as such, could never be guaranteed to continue.

“It is a fact of the current economic situation that ongoing funding has become increasingly difficult to find.

“We recognise the importance of access to play for children and the benefits it brings. The council continues to spend �130,000 each year on children’s services which enables us to provide the ever-popular Play Rangers schemes in school holidays, and we also run a number of sports development schemes for young people.”

A Hitchin Committee Meeting held this week displayed an interest in looking into keeping the Hitchin projects running.

Councillors agreed to look into alternative ways of funding the scheme, and have said that they will look at their budget for the following year.