Demonstrators hold protest over changes to city playgroups

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PROTESTERS held a demonstration against changes to playgroups across the city.

More than a dozen campaigners were in Guildhall Square yesterday to oppose plans that will see volunteers lead playgroups at children’s centres across the city instead of council staff.

Parents and children who took part in the demonstration

Parents and children who took part in the demonstration

The move has been labelled ‘an attack on public services’, with protesters claiming it will have a knock-on effect for children heading from playgroup into school.

Katie Jones, from Hilsea, who takes one-year-old Ethan to the playgroup in Somers Town Children’s Centre, said the changes meant parents could not rely on the service.

She said: ‘Unless the council can guarantee 100 per cent that the volunteers will be there every week, we cannot rely on it now.

‘There are nearly 40 people there each time and these playgroups are so important for the children in terms of boosting their opportunities to socialise and interact with other children.

‘It’s about basic interaction and as parents we need to be able to count on these groups happening.

‘We will not be able to do that now.’

Susan Le Cuirot, from Fratton, said: ‘I fear for the future of children’s services.

‘We’ve got a situation here where we don’t know how many children’s centres are going to be open in the future.

‘Where will our children’s children go? All the centres may be gone by then.’

Ms Le Cuirot, who takes her two-year-old grandson Theo to Landport Children’s Centre, added: ‘It’s not just the children. For us parents, playgroups like this can be invaluable to helping us develop as mums and dads.’

Holly Harrison, from Southsea, who led the protest, said: ‘These playgroups provide our kids with opportunities that are not always available at home and they help kids learn skills to prepare them for school.

‘The staff there are so valuable and knowledgeable, so a switch to volunteers will have a big impact.’

Campaigners previously reacted with fury when three children’s centres were stripped of their special status by Portsmouth City Council last March.

A spokeswoman for the authority said: ‘There are no budgets cuts being made to children’s centres, no playgroups being closed and nothing is being downsized.

‘We are changing the way things are being managed so we can provide a wider range of support to families, including the most vulnerable.

‘Volunteers will be trained to provide a good level of support to parents.’