‘Our soul is coming back’: Hampstead Community Centre on coronavirus and reopening play centre

Children at Hampstead Community Centre's after school play centre painting letters for an autumn-themed wall collage. Picture...

Children at Hampstead Community Centre's after school play centre painting letters for an autumn-themed wall collage. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

In March, the coronavirus pandemic threatened to derail Hampstead Community Centre’s (HCC’s) vital work with NW3’s young and old.

Children sticking handpainted leaves onto their collage in the community centre hall. Picture: Polly Hancock

Children sticking handpainted leaves onto their collage in the community centre hall. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Now, seven months on and open seven days a week, its “soul is coming back”.

The community hub, based in Hampstead High Street, has reopened its after school play centre and under 5s play group along with its weekend markets.

During the summer it was also able to run its play scheme with students from Fitzjohn’s primary, Hampstead Parochial School, New End primary and Christ Church primary.

Dittany Bak Olesen, the play centre manager, said HCC’s services were, and continue to be, critical respite for stretched families during lockdown.

Play centre manager Dittany Bak Olesen said children needed to socialise otherwise their mental health would suffer. Picture:...

Play centre manager Dittany Bak Olesen said children needed to socialise otherwise their mental health would suffer. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant


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She told the Ham&High: “Some of those children who were stuck at home since March, their mental health really suffered.

“Children not being allowed to play with other children is really bad for them. It’s bad for their social skills and bad for their mental health.

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“So just having something like the summer play scheme, where they could actually go and meet children, was really important.”

To meet the government’s Covid-19 measures, HCC has altered its surroundings. Its main hall has been split into two “bubbles” with a maximum of 15 children in each.

Play centre manager Dittany Bak Olesen said children needed to socialise otherwise their mental health would suffer. Picture:...

Play centre manager Dittany Bak Olesen said children needed to socialise otherwise their mental health would suffer. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Alongside the commercial revenues from its markets, HCC has received financial support from Camden Council and a £25,000 grant from Whitehall to help it survive on reduced revenues.

Some of its support groups are yet to restart due to space and social distancing restrictions – but much of its community work has carried on virtually.

As part of its ‘Act Your Age’ project with Age UK Camden, the kids from its play scheme – who would normally visit elderly residents at the support centre in Fitzjohn’s Avenue to play bingo – have instead played the game with pensioners online, over Zoom.

As HCC continues to adapt to the constraints of coronavirus, its centre director Richard Weaver said he was cautiously optimistic for the future.

“The appreciation for the things we’ve able to do has been enormous,” Richard said. “There has been a genuine appreciation there.

“Our plans going forward are good so we’re hopeful looking ahead.”

For more information on HCC click here.

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