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Revised project planned as Play Pods scheme for schoolchildren is cut by Cambridge City Council due to losses

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A scheme that provides scrap materials for children to play with at break times in schools will come to an end due to cuts, writes Hannah Brown, Local Democracy Reporter.

The Play Pods scheme is operated by Cambridge City Council’s Children and Young People’s Participation Service (ChYpPS).

The Guildhall. Picture Keith Heppell
The Guildhall. Picture Keith Heppell

It was set up in 2014 in part to raise funds to support other ChYpPS work.

A Play Pod is a shed or container in a school playground that contains scrap materials for children to play with at lunchtime.

According to the city council, research shows that Play Pods lead to fewer accidents at lunchtimes, help keep children happy and reduce the amount of teacher time taken up by friendship issues by prompting greater co-operation between age groups and helping children return to class ready to learn.

Schools pay to access the service, but a review in 2019 found that staffing costs outweighed the income benefit, with the service having a net annual cost to the council of £26,000.

The council said that four Play Pods had been set up at schools in the city, with 18 being established at schools outside of it.

A similar scheme, the Scrap Store, is set to be ‘evolved’ because it also cost the city council more to run than it makes.

Set up in 1988, it was initially managed by The Castle Project, but taken on by the city council in 2000.

The scheme provided materials for the Play Pods scheme, and city residents can pay a membership fee to source arts, crafts and play materials at low cost.

It was also created in part to help raise funds for ChYpPS, but the council said a 2019 review found that, like the Play Pods scheme, once staffing costs had been taken into account, there was a net annual loss - in this case, of £46,500.

Cllr Dr Hannah Charlotte Copley
Cllr Dr Hannah Charlotte Copley

At a meeting of the council’s environment and community scrutiny committee last Thursday (October 8) councillors approved recommendations to stop delivering the Play Pod scheme from March 31, 2022, and approved for council officers to begin “feasibility work” to establish a revised Scrap Store-style scheme to support the council’s anti-poverty work.

It will be launched “as soon as possible” in the 2022-23 financial year.

An amendment was put forward by Cllr Hannah Copley (Green, Abbey) and Cllr Katie Porrer (Lib Dem, Market) to remove the “hard deadline” for the scheme to end on March 31 2022, and asking for the service to be maintained until the replacement could open.

A council officer raised concerns over the “operational viability” of the amendment wording, but offered reassurances that the aim will be for it to be a “smooth transition” from the ending of the current scheme to the new scheme.

Plans for the revised scheme are due to be brought back before the committee next year.

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