The One O’Clock Club was closed during 2013 as Wandsworth Borough Council decided it would be better to replace it with a commercial facility.
The following article, written by Friend Gloria Cottesloe, was first published in Issue 49 (Summer 2000) of the Review.
What is a One O’clock Club? It is not a ladies’ luncheon club, far from it: but it was set up for women nearly forty years ago, the original intention being to provide a friendly lunchtime meeting-place for mothers with young children. Nowadays the clubs are called One O’clock Centres, this being thought to sound snore friendly and less exclusive. The word “club” could suggest that there is a restrictive membership, and that could not be farther from the case. They are open to all – men as well – and the fact that their literature is translated into no fewer than twelve languages is proof indeed.Situated in parks all over the capital, they set out to provide a friendly, caring and secure environment for adults with young children. Where facilities are provided for imaginative and constructive play for the under-five’s, and there is always a sympathetic ear and the offer of support and help for the adults.The centres came about as a continuation of the thought and philosophy behind the setting up of Adventure Playgrounds in parks all over the country. These playgrounds were originally pioneered by Lady Allen of Hurtwood after a visit to Denmark shortly after World War 2 where she was invited to visit the Emdrup Waste-Material Playground on a housing estate just outside Copenhagen. This had been set up during the German occupation by Prof. Sorensen, the architect in charge of the area landscaping. This enlightened man had come to feel very deeply that the inherent curiosity and natural enthusiasm of children can be stimulated and kept alive through recreation and he fired Lady Allen with his new ideas.Coming back to this country full of enthusiasm, she set about the creation of some junk-yard playgrounds which were to be the forerunners of the Adventure Playgrounds. She then took her ideas further as the success of this project led her to recognise the need for mothers of young children to have a meeting place where their under-fives could play in a safe environment, leaving them free to sit and chat and make friends with other women in similar circumstances.An experimental scheme was started by the Parks Department of the Greater London Council in 1964, and this proved so successful that more were opened in other parks across the metropolis. They were an instant success. Alas, the GLC was destined to come to an end, but after its demise most London councils, Wandsworth being among them, were sufficiently enlightened to continue with the centres. There are now eleven One O’clock Centres in this Borough, and one of them is in the south-west corner of Battersea Park where it is run with conspicuous love and dedication, adding hugely to the local environment.The Battersea Park Centre is run by Esther and Gill, both with National Vocational Qualifications in Child Care and Education, with extra, less experienced help during the summer months. Every week-day they arrive soon after noon and fling open the huge gates – fitted, needless to say, with child-proof latches – ready to open up at One O’clock.On the other side of these gates is a garden in front of a huge single storey building. Parked at the side is a horde of child-proof wheeled pedal vehicles of all sizes and shapes, guaranteed to be greeted with toddler joy, on which they can whizz about on the tarmac apron. But these must not be brought into the vast hall which, strange to relate, started life as a garage, where huge low tables are spread with a selection of toys and materials which keep a small army of children happily occupied for many hours. These tables are interspersed
with double-sided painting easels, piles of paper and a variety of colouring materials, while frames with bulldog-clips stand by to dry the masterpieces, and rows of yellow painting overalls are provided to protect the clothing of the budding Michelangelos. At the back of the hall is a carpeted area intended for babies, though as soon as they can crawl they tend to zoom off at the drop of a hat and head for the open door and freedom, pursued by an anxious parent. For, although these young people find companionship at the Centre, they are deemed to be responsible for their children at all times. They have to keep a watchful eye on them, overseeing their play and accompanying them to the toilet. There is a simple and sensible set of rules governing the way the place is run – smoking, alcohol and swearing are forbidden and physical punishment is discouraged. Any flouting of the rules is followed by a polite request to leave, and should the staff face any insurmountable difficulty, then, as a last resort, the Parks Police can be called in. Because young children find sharing difficult, parents are asked not to bring in their own toys to avoid unnecessary tears and tantrums, and nappies and pants must be kept on at all times. Wherever possible, the Centres try to provide a service to children and adults with disabilities.There are no dues or fees for the use of any of the amenities, though a nominal charge is made for the light refreshments that are served halfway through the afternoon. Nowadays food is not permitted in this centre, this being because there are thought to be certain dangers, such as a child with a particular food allergy picking up the wrong sandwich, or food being dropped on the floor which could attract vermin. Sick children must not be brought to the centres.Adults are encouraged and stimulated to take part in the play and development of their children and to become aware of the social and environmental factors that influence a child’s progress. All sorts of discussions and talks take place on such topics as the awareness of the causes of cot death, safety related issues and general advice on parenting, while courses on First Aid and Resuscitation and other practical subjects are on the programme. The walls are covered with notice boards offering a variety, of things for sale, and a host of support groups advertise there such as The Gingerbread Group, The London Marriage Guidance, Child Death Helpline and many others. It costs Wandsworth something in the region of £20,000 a year to run each centre, but such is the enthusiasm of the parents that they lay on fund-raising events themselves to provide more amenities. The most exciting of these events is an annual Teddy Bears’ Picnic that attracts big crowds every August. Donations in kind are never accepted for reasons of safety, as all materials and equipment are centrally purchased to ensure they meet British Standards. It would never do to run any possibility of children licking toxic crayons, chewing poisonous paint or playing with potentially dangerous toys. The premises provide a marvellously original location for children’s’ parties at the weekends, when they are available for rent with full use of all the outdoor equipment.What a wonderful function these centres fulfil! Where else could a harassed and possibly lonely parent find a place to take their children every weekday from one o’clock until four. Where it’s not a problem if paint drips on the floor, where the joys of playing with clay, sand and water can be discovered without retribution, and where they can ride around on trikes to their heart’s content in a secure outside area? And it’s all for free.