All the job creation in the world cannot help parents who are unable to find child care. David Henderson discovers how National Lottery cash is helping out. Another 48 primary pupils in the Wester Hailes area of Edinburgh will shortly have reason to thank Mystic Meg and her pals on the National Lottery. In a matter of months, an award of Pounds 274,000 from the Lottery's charities fund will have established two more day-care projects to allow parents to support their families in one of the areas of greatest need in the capital.
The two new schemes will add to the 24 places at the Hailesland Out of School Project, which is taking over the administration of all three projects.
Derek Suttie, senior community development worker for the area, said a study by the community education service had shown that, just as in other parts of the country, the main block to parents returning to education, training or employment was the lack of child care.
Four years ago, the service initiated the Hailesland project with local parents and won urban aid funding for a pilot project, with Lothian contributing 25 per cent of the costs. The original scheme has now been extended. But lottery money will develop two similar initiatives in the neighbouring Clovenstone and Calders areas.
Mr Suttie said: "It is difficult to break the unemployment cycle unless you do something like this."
Wester Hailes has a declining population of 11,000 and around 40 per cent of families are headed by single parents. It has been designated a partnership area by the Scottish Secretary and targeted for positive discrimination strategies.
Before the urban aid project, out-of-school provision was haphazard. Now there is a coherent and developing structure, Mr Suttie said.
The Hailesland project has been a blessing for parents, according to Nikki Moran, the local play organiser. "People would be stuck if they did not have such cheap child care. They have got peace of mind when they go to work, " she said.
Most of the parents of the 34 children who attend weekly (only 24 are allowed at one time) are working and determined to support their families, Ms Moran said. Another 28 are on a waiting list for the service, even though only pupils at Hailesland primary school - in whose playground the two project huts are situated -- are eligible.
Ms Moran said that, at 50 pence a day, the cost came within reach of most families. Private provision could cost up to Pounds 75 per week, a sum beyond most pockets.
The project opens 52 weekdays a year from 8am to 6pm, allowing parents the flexibility they need. Care staff take children across to school and pick them at different times of the day. For every eight children, there is one member of staff, a better than normal ratio.
Ms Moran said that children took part in activities ranging from football and rock climbing to pin-hole photography, kite making and finger painting. In the two rooms, one is kept quiet and the other noisy.
There is always a strong demand to use the computer. Kitchen skills are also a favourite as snacks are a routine part of the day in the huts. "The children love making vegetarian taco shells," Ms Moran said.
Christine Mackay, the community education team leader, said project staff always knew exactly which youngsters should be attending on any day and took immediate action if any child failed to show. Safety-conscious staff allow only named individuals to collect the children.
With demand likely to outstrip supply for places, even after the two new projects begin, the issue for the future is how to provide long-term provision and enough of it. Three years from now urban aid funding will run out, as will the lottery cash, and it will then be up to the new City of Edinburgh council to work out how to find unearth the cash to maintain the service.
A little help from Mystic Meg would not go amiss.