A soft play group in Bermondsey where local kids under five have played for free for sixteen years is being forced to close after losing its funding.
Riverside Softplay – based at Salmon Youth Centre in Bermondsey – is being forced to close after sixteen years of providing free soft play for children under five.
The soft play group is run by Riverside Parents & Carers Association and is a free place for kids to play twice a week, and is attended by hundreds of kids and their parents every month.
Roger O’Sullivan, a Trustee and local parent who used the service, said: “For sixteen years this has been fundamental for the local community, especially because it’s free. Many of the families who come would not be able to afford something like this.”
Not only is it fun for kids and vital for their development – it gives parents a place to meet a community of other parents.
The Bermondsey Children’s Centre – which Southwark Council funds – have funded the play group for the last sixteen years, but in June they informed the play group they would no longer be doing so. They gave them a three-month notice period.
“After losing our funding in September, we have been running our free soft play sessions on our reserves while waiting for a local fund application to come through,” said the manager at Riverside Softplay.
She said they applied for the Chambers Wharf Community Enhancement Fund through Thames Tideway but didn’t get it.
“It was a fund for £34,000, which would have funded us for a whole year. But unfortunately, we weren’t successful.”
The council said there had been no cuts to the funding of the Children’s Centre for at least the last five years – but with no funding from the centre, they have to close.
Last week, nearly 100 children attended their final soft play session on Tuesday, November 29 and parents all said they were ‘devastated.’
“Some mothers tell us this place has saved their lives after they’ve suffered with post-natal depression,” she said. “They say coming here has given them a community that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
“These kids mostly live in flats, so they don’t have an indoor space to play and run around. If this closes for good, where will they do that?”
Toyin Oluwa, a childminder based in Bermondsey, has been coming here since it opened. “Taking this away is a disservice to the children”, she said.
“I don’t know anywhere else like this locally. All of them are smaller – so it would be great if they can save this. For the children.”
They set the toys up in a way that stimulates learning by encouraging kids to experiment. There are toys for children to hold and touch, which is key for developing their motor skills.
Kim Muller, a Rotherhithe-based mum, said: “We don’t have a huge space at home, so it’s been a blessing to come here.
“I felt so sad hearing it’s closing. It will leave such a gap in the community – where do you take children now?”
Carol Catchpole, also a childminder from Bermondsey, said: “How could you close something down that so many people use and benefit from? Especially given what a lot of these parents and kids have been through with the pandemic.”
Louise Purvey from Bermondsey had a baby during the pandemic. She said the support she gets from the group is crucial for both her and her child: “It was hard for me to begin with. There was a lack of support for new parents in the pandemic because of social distancing – then you find a place like this and it’s free.
“And you can make friends for life here because the kids will probably end up at the same schools.
“It’s not just a play group, it’s a community,” she added.
The council said it hadn’t been made aware of the funding challenges the group were facing and has set up a meeting with them, stating they will try to help them in whatever way they can.