A POPULAR children’s charity which runs centres and toy libraries for families has been rescued at the 11th hour thanks to a lottery grant of almost £300,000.
Connors Toy Library was facing imminent closure this year after Portsmouth City Council pulled all its funding due to major budget cuts.
But the £291,782 from the Big Lottery Fund means the service – which supports 1,000 families each year through play, free toy loans, special needs training and home visits – will now operate at full capacity for three years.
Connors’ administrator Jacqui Ingram said: ‘We are absolutely thrilled with the funding.
‘Without it, we would have closed after the Easter school holidays and we wouldn’t be here today.
‘There are families we support who are particularly vulnerable and depend on us.
‘Without Connors, families not specifically targeted by children’s centres would have nowhere to go.’
Connors operates out of 13 centres, and its army of 34 volunteers and five part-time staff is looking to expand after losing bases in five council-run centres.
Mrs Ingram said the charity was uniquely placed to give families continued support, compared with Sure Start centres where some courses have ‘six week cut-off points’.
Mum Sharon Slevin, who joined Connors when her eldest Riley, five, was 15 months, is training to be a volunteer to ‘give something back’.
She said: ‘When I started going I had post-natal depression. The people there were so welcoming and friendly and it was with their support that I got through it.
‘Connors was a lifeline to me and I know there are so many families who would have been lost without it – the funding is fantastic news.
‘It’s not like a children’s centre, which is very structured and has a big emphasis on parents being with their child at every step – at Connors there’s lots of free play and children have the chance to express themselves.’
The grant is a happy ending for the charity that has had a turbulent few years.
In 2010, thousands of pounds’ worth of toys were stolen and vandalised, and state funding dwindled from £84,700 that year to £58,000 in 2011 and nothing this year.