A VITAL local children’s playgroup that has served the Turf Lodge area for 30 years will close its doors for the last time at the end of the month due to a lack of funding.Holy Trinity Playgroup were told by letter this week that money from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust would not be made available to them for the coming school year, forcing the closure of the facility and causing job losses.

As little as £7,000 is needed to operate the playgroup for the 2012/13 academic year, however despite numerous fundraising initiatives by staff, parents and the wider Turf Lodge community the money could not be raised.

“We’re just absolutely devastated that we have to close,” said playgroup manager and supervisor Toni Sloan.

“There were 20 children down on the list for September, children who did not meet the age requirement for nursery school, and that’s not including 16 children that were on the waiting list.

“One of our staff members has been working here 20 years. We are really gutted for the Turf Lodge community as playgroup places are in such high demand here and vitally needed for an area as disadvantaged as this one.”

Turf Lodge mother Cathy Darcan had been due to send her two-year-old daughter Ruby to the playgroup in the new school year.

“I’m left in limbo by the closure,” she said.

“My nephew and friends’ children have all gone to the playgroup as it’s the only such facility for children of this age in the area. The £7,000 needed to keep it open seems like a drop in the ocean for the Belfast Trust to find.  Playgroups like this are so vital to children’s development. It’s left a lot of parents in trouble as places in other playgroups for next year are already filled up.”

A spokesperson for the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said: “In order to ensure accessibility to playgroup places and equality of provision Belfast Trust   now purchases a minimum of two places from all registered playgroups across the Belfast Area. Where this has led to a change in levels of funding for some individual groups, the Trust  has taken a year-on-year approach to implement any changes.

“We  have also worked in partnership with all playgroups in a bid to minimise the impact on any individual group.

“These contracts are reviewed on a yearly basis and if need is identified by the Trust consideration will be given to meeting this  need.”