In the last issue of the prayer diary which was included in Rapport, you might remember a request to pray not only for the St James Advice Centre (where I work) but also for the St James Playgroup. Sadly, by the time this diary was published, the playgroup was no longer operating. Although the City Council gave it some funding, we always had to raise additional funds ourselves, and the closure came after several applications were refused and we ran out of money.
These two organisations actually started at the same time, in 1976, in the very house (the old St James Vicarage) where we are now living. Both of them were seen as ways of helping the local people, especially the newly-arrived immigrants from Bangladesh. The vicar’s wife ran the playgroup, and charged 10p per session.
When the church was rebuilt in 1980, space was made for both playgroup and advice centre. The playgroup could accommodate up to twenty children aged 3 or 4, and in the last few years there has been an enormous waiting list, up to 90! The children came every weekday from 9 a.m. till midday, and quite recently there were discussions about the possibility of having afternoon sessions as well.
Whenever I went to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea, I would listen to the happy hum as the children took delight in a great variety of activities and were encouraged to learn and gain confidence. We had three paid staff, as well as several volunteers, and if I went into the kitchen at about 11.30 a.m. there would be the smell of buttered toast as the children were given a (mainly healthy) snack at the end of their morning.
The loss to the community is enormous, since there are not many such groups in Aston, and those which do exist charge considerably more. In August we had a bitter-sweet meeting at the church, at which everyone connected with the playgroup was invited to come and share memories, giving thanks for all the benefits which both children and parents had received. It is not, however, a case of all doors being closed; as I write, the PCC of the parish of Aston and Nechells are planning an ‘away-day’ to consider other projects by which we can bless our needy neighbours.
As it happened, our 15-year-old daughter Catherine had been due to do two weeks of work experience last September with the St James Playgroup. We had to hunt around quickly for an alternative, and were glad to find a privately-run group about a mile from our house. The good news is that she had a wonderful time there; the group’s leader told us she thought that Catherine is a natural, and she was given a very warm send-off at the end of her stint ― strong confirmation of the direction in which we expect her to go in future!