IT STARTED off in a cupboard 39 years ago and since then has given some of the most disadvantaged children in Southampton what many other youngsters take for granted.
The Toy Library Service has been providing toys to thousands of city children who otherwise wouldn’t enjoy what should be a fundamental part of childhood.
But now the organisation fears it may not make its 40th anniversary after funding was pulled by the city council in what has been described as “a slap in the face” by volunteers and staff.
The Toy Library, which last year loaned out over 12,000 toys, is run by Community Playlink, which also supports a number of toddler groups in the city.
Despite bracing themselves for a cut in their budget as part of widespread funding cuts, nothing prepared the registered charity for the announcement that virtually all of their money would be withdrawn.
Manager of the organisation Pam McCune said: “We have been essentially left with enough money to physically keep an office open, but no money at all to provide the services or pay staff to run them. We basically could not afford to keep going.”
It costs £80,000 a year to run all the services provided by Community Playlink, with about £52,000 provided by Southampton City Council and the rest from the team’s own fundraising.
As previously reported by the Daily Echo, although some youth services have been given a reprieve, it appears the cuts to the Community Playlink service funding are set to go ahead.
That is despite an unexpected £5.8m Government windfall that has led to £1m being set aside for changes to social services, £500,000 earmarked to offset any future reduction of Government funding and a decision to keep the £40,000 mayoral car.
Pam said: “It does strike me that they have got their priorities a bit wrong. We need this money now, anything at all would help. I know cuts need to be made but I am sure they could find something.
After all we have done over the years it feels like a slap in the face.”
Cost-cutting over the years has included staff taking home the rubbish so they don’t have to pay for waste disposal services and mending and repairing toys in their own time.
Meanwhile Pam and her team of toy librarians, a finance administrator and toddler support worker – who risk losing their jobs – are being forced to work in a leaking office on Northam Road with half a dozen buckets scattered over the floor while they wait for months for the council to repair the roof.
Pam said: “We don’t feel like we are being treated very fairly, the council as our landlord is aware of the conditions we are working in, but we still are prepared to work here because of the importance of what we do.
“I just don’t know how we can be any more efficient. I do not believe that the council fully understands what services we provide and how we underpin so much of what happens in the city in terms of toddler groups and pre schools.
“The Toy Library Service particularly would be a huge loss as so much emphasis is put on learning through play but certainly in recent financial hard times that is getting less affordable for parents and playgroups.”
The council are due to make the final decision on a proposed £20m of cuts on February 13.
Councillor Sarah Bogle explained that no final decision had yet been made, but the authority was having to make “very difficult decisions” in the face of a reduced settlement from the Government and that money had to be prioritised, particularly when dealing with services for vulnerable people.
She said: “It is not as straightforward to allocate money to and from different areas of the council’s budget.
“We don’t want to be in a position where we are safeguarding a group for a year but then pulling the funding the next. We need to look at how we can deliver services and fund organisations in a sustainable way.”