HUNDREDS of Birkenhead parents have pulled together to keep a play scheme worker they describe as being “the heart of the community” from being moved to the other side of town.
John Quinlan has worked at Beechwood Play and Community Centre for more than 27 years but last week, users of the centre were informed of council plans to move him to the North End of Birkenhead as part of “service cutbacks”.
Parents say this simply cannot happen and on Saturday, hundreds gathered at the centre in protest of the decision, which they have said will “split the whole community”.
They were joined by local councillor Harry Smith, who has vowed to support the residents in whatever way he can.
Close to 530 people have signed an online petition to keep John at the Beechwood centre, while hundreds more have signed a paper version.
Krista Fowles, who attended the centre as a child and now takes her two daughters there, told the Globe: “John is part of the family and if he goes a lot of people have said that their kids don’t want to go to the centre anymore – my daughters have said they don’t want to go if he’s not there.
“He is the life and soul of it and this is upsetting a lot of people.”
The 33-year-old added: “Everybody has said, ‘Don’t fix what isn’t broken’ - we just want him to stay where he belongs.”
John’s niece, 34-year-old Michelle Sampson, added: “It is splitting the whole community.
“John has kept the whole community together and if he goes, it’s like the heart of the community has gone.”
Wirral Council says a review of the Play Service has been undertaken in response to the need to “reduce council spending”, but centre users believe the decision will affect more than just John.
Chelsie Pinchen, who takes her child and stepchildren to the centre regularly, said: “It is so sad and heartbreaking. The children are going to be affected too because they are so used to seeing a familiar face when they go to the centre – they can go and speak to John about anything.
“He has been here for 27 years and has watched everybody grow up and he’s just so well respected by everybody - I hope the petition makes a difference.”
Julia Hassall, Wirral’s director of children’s services said a number of play schemes have been affected by service cutbacks, with staff numbers reduced at a number of centres.
She said: “Managers have worked hard to minimise disruption to ensure that all the remaining play schemes across Wirral have the right staffing structures for the children and young people who use the service.”
Ms Hassall said an important factor has been to “balance the skills, abilities and expertise” of staff to make sure they can “best meet the needs” of everyone who uses the service, which unfortunately has led to a number of staff being moved to play schemes in other communities.
She said: “We appreciate that there may be some children, families or communities who are disappointed if someone they know well is being relocated, however we are very confident in the ability of the staff we have in place and we will support them to adjust to the new arrangements.
“The priority throughout this service review has been meeting the needs of the children and our staff have shown utmost professionalism, despite challenging times.”
On Monday, Ms Hassall agreed to delay moving staff until a meeting has been held with a delegation of residents.
Local councillor Harry Smith, who asked for the delay on behalf of Beechwood parents said he planned to present the petition to Ms Hassall this week.
He added: “I will be trying to assist the residents as much as I can to get a satisfactory outcome.”