A PLAYGROUP is facing closure because of a predicted five-fold increase in rent.

Weston Tumbling Toddlers has been running for the past five years and has about 1,340 children passing through its doors every year.

However, Southampton City Council is increasing the cost of renting the community hall at Chamberlayne Leisure Centre in Weston Road and the playgroup is being priced out.

Members of the playgroup's committee are now fighting to save it.

Rachel Bartlett has one child at the playgroup and is childminder for another two.

She said: "A special deal was struck when we started the group and we have been paying rent of £7.50 per session every week.

"We understand that the council wants to make money from the community hall but they have just posted us a letter telling us the cost was going up to £37.50."

Claire Hoff, a childminder for two children, said: "It's a 400 per cent increase. All the staff are volunteers and the group doesn't make any money. We won't be able to survive if the rent goes up so much."

Weston Tumbling Toddlers runs every Tuesday and on average about 20 parents visit the group at a cost of £1 each with children from birth to five years old getting in free.

A Southampton City Council spokesman said the playgroup was being allowed to use the hall at greatly reduced rates and that other users paid £22.25 per hour. From April 1 the hourly charge will go up to £25 and because the playgroup uses the facility for one and a half hours a week the bill will increase to £37.50.

He said: "We want to assist them. As a voluntary group they can apply for external funding, for example from Surestart.

"In essence what we are saying, and the playgroup is aware of this, is that costs are rising and £7.50 is nowhere near a realistic fee."

He added they would help where possible.