I guess the target market for this council-funded service are families who maybe wouldn't attend a fee-paying playgroup and who may not have much space for playing at home. But they are used just as much (if not more!) by families of all backgrounds. The regular activities organised by these centres seem designed to encourage interaction between adults and children, and to develop language, sharing skills and other foundations before children start school.
As a new mum recently recovered from severe mental illness, I found it a sanctuary.
This morning, as the boy darted to and from the play garden to the art easel and the water tray, I reflected on how lucky we are to have these places. When local councils are having to find budget savings, lets hope these centres remain protected. Investment in the early years really does seem to pay dividends further down the line. And if families can be helped to play together, then hopefully they will stay together too.
I laughed (ruefully) when I heard that a nearby council had recently given £17,000 to a local park to purchase dog agility equipment. Really? Don't dogs enjoy the park regardless? I thought of how far that money could have gone at a children's centre... I realise that dog owners are tax payers too - but don't our representatives have a responsibility to allocate our money according to wider societal benefits? Agile dogs or happy kids? I know what I'd vote for...