IT has been at the heart of the community for 40 years.
Generations of children have played, learned and thrived at a popular youth centre in one of Southampton’s most multicultural neighbourhoods.
Many of the youngsters who grew up to have families of their own were among those at an emotional farewell party at Newtown Adventure Playground yesterday.
The Northumberland Road-based centre is closing because of budget cuts – just a year after a £422,000 renovation.
Southampton City Council is closing it and the Zoe Braithwaite Play Centre in Lordshill to save £135,000 a year as part of the city’s worst-ever cuts.
The Lordshill centre will reopen this summer with Oasis Lord’s Hill Community Hub running a pre-school and out of school activity.
The Newtown centre, featuring an activities hall, kitchen and toilets, has been serving as a pre-school, run by Southampton YMCA since April 22.
But parents complain this only caters for under-fives rather than teenagers and older children, while its adjoining adventure playground with swings, climbing frames will still be open to the public but unstaffed.
The centre’s two permanent staff and four youth workers have until the end of this month to be redeployed elsewhere in the authority or find new jobs.
They put on a brave face as they welcomed families for party games, music and food and handed out balloons to youngsters.
They reminisced, browsing through photographs of former events at the playground including its opening in 1969.
The centre was developed predominantly by the city’s West Indian community who put up a makeshift building on an old bomb site. It was briefly shut by environmental health teams in the 1970s before it was later run by the council and the building improved.
Only last year the building and neighbouring park were refurbished and it holds regular sporting, arts, crafts, cooking, gardening activities and away days.
It has up to 400 children on its books from more than 40 different nationalities.
The centre has forged links with Maytree Nursery and Infants and Mount Pleasant Junior schools and staff offer vital support to families often struggling with financial problems.
A council spokesman said: “YMCA Southampton has been runing a pre-school since April 22 and is looking to deliver other community activities in the summer.”