Budget cuts threaten Lewisham Toy Library

Karin Schnabel working at the Lewisham Toy Library in Catford Pic: Anna Mellin

Karin Schnabel working at the Lewisham Toy Library in Catford Pic: Anna Mellin

Lewisham Toy Library in Catford could close due to funding cuts and the unexpected imposition of rent by the council.

The charity, which has served more than 10 000 children over a period of 43 years, might be charged a monthly commercial based rent.

On Monday, the Toy Library appealed against the rejection of their funding application at the Lewisham Mayor’s Cabinet Meeting. Many library members joined the meeting with their own children.

The acting chair Dwayne Baraka said he was “very concerned about the situation”.

Baraka said: “Our legal position, as we understand it, is that we are under what is called a protected tenancy which means the council has to go though certain procedures and can only raise the rent for a certain amount.”

However, Baraka said the council “haven’t complied with these procedures”.

Baraka estimated that the commercial rate would be: “More than 10 000 pounds [a year] which is equivalent to more than sixty per cent of our current cost base”.

Lewisham Toy Library served 721 families last year. The charity also assists communities and child minders and has a special toy collection for disabled children.

Baraka said: “We serve people on income support and people who otherwise, at least they tell us, can’t afford to buy toys and so this is a way to keep children’s development on track for those people.”

After the meeting Baraka said that from his point of view “the different Council departments are not joining up on this issue”.

“What I would like to happen is either council granting our appeal and giving us the funding that we have asked for, which is just over £5 000, or not continuing to ask us to pay rent”, he said.

If the appeal is unsuccessful, Bakara said that the charity has “about nine months worth of resources”.

During this time the charity would have time to fundraise and look for other options, including downgrading and moving into other premises.

“In 2008 they talked about shutting us down completely on the basis that they concluded that there was another toy library in Catford”, he said.

“In fact there was only one. As soon as they became properly aware of the situation, they restarted the funding”, Baraka said.

Nonetheless Baraka “has some sympathy for the council as the scale of cuts they have been asked to implement is huge.”

Charity cuts are part of savings of £85 million over the next three years due to reduced government funding.

Barka said: “We think it is really unfair to not give us just a little more time to continue to reinvent the service and hopefully get more community involvement.”

According to Baraka the charity will not find out about the appeal until the end of the week. The fight against a commercial rent might not be resolved for another three months.

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