Belfast Telegraph

After school facility gets festive reprieve

by Chris McCann

The manager of an east Belfast after-schools club has spoken of her “delight” after the facility secured further funding which will keep it open over Christmas and the New Year.

Ballymac Centre Playzone After-schools Club — whose future remains uncertain due to a lack of long-term commitment on funding — will receive money from OFMDFM, ensuring it stays open until March 2011.

Manager Alison Baxter said the funding would give Playzone “breathing space” but urged the Assembly to come up with a long-term solution.

“We’ve been thinking now for a long time that we could close, so this is good news,” she said.

“Staff were on protective notice so this is a big boost for them before Christmas. It is also good for parents, particularly those who can’t afford to pay for private care.

“But the Assembly needs to appoint a lead department to look after a childcare strategy. We still don’t really know who to go to — and this has been ongoing from 2004 or after.”

The Playzone group had been funded by the Department of Health initially, but OFMDFM stepped in last April to take over funding responsibilities.

East Belfast Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle welcomed confirmation that funding has been extended until March next year.

He said: “The parents and children who benefit from Playzone have been waiting on this confirmation of funding since May 2010.

“There were serious breakdowns in communication between OFMDFM and the Department of Health on this matter which has caused significant distress and anxiety for our local community. Playzone staff were unsure of contracts and working parents could not make long-term plan for childcare.

“I am glad that I was able to play a part in the campaign that secured this much needed funding until May 2011 and am extremely pleased at this outcome.

“Playzone is vital in helping meet the developmental needs of children in inner east Belfast and in helping our adults into work.”

He continued: “I wish everyone connected with this project all the best for the coming year's programme.

“I want to take this opportunity however to call on OFMDFM to deliver on its commitment to have a Childcare Strategy and lead department in place by the end of this year so that we can avoid risking more vital services of this nature going to the wall.”

At the time of going to press, no-one from OFMDFM was available for comment.

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