A YOUTH and community group in Henley has lost the contract to run two children’s centres.
Nomad will no longer operate the Rainbow centres at the d:two centre in Market Place, Henley, where it is based, and at Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common.
Both centres, which help needy families with children from birth to age five, will be run by Action for Children, a national charity, after Nomad’s contract expires on March 31.
Oxfordshire County Council put the contract out to tender and Nomad was invited to bid to continue running the centres as well as the Rainbow children’s centre in Thame.
Action for Children, which has an annual turnover of about £184 million, won the tender and will become responsible for 14 of the 15 voluntary sector-run centres in Oxfordshire from April 1 on a two-year contract. Nomad, which has managed the Henley and Sonning Common centres for four years, says it lost the contract for financial reasons, not because of the quality of its service.
In a letter to the town council, manager Sue Prior and Roger Cole, pastor of Henley Baptist Church, which owns d:two and is based there, said: “It goes without saying that we are extremely disappointed with the decision, not least because it is work that has grown up through much hard work and dedication. The added value of the wider Nomad project offering support to families who have children spanning the age spectrum, the community involvement and, of course, the bank of local knowledge do not appear to have come into the equation.
“Following feedback from our bid, we understand that failure to renew the contract was not attributable to the quality of services we ran and offered. It does appear that it was due to financial factors.
“Nomad could clearly not compete with a larger organisation that has the infrastructure and central resources to run the service for less.
“Moving forward, the loss of its use by Nomad is significant and for Henley Baptist Church, which has worked so hard to provide a community facility, letting it to a provider who has no links with the community is challenging.”
The current children’s centre staff will transfer to Action For Children and Nomad will seek to work with the charity to ensure a smooth transition for families and staff.
Mrs Prior and Mr Cole said that Nomad, which has been running for 16 years, would continue to support disadvantaged children, young people and their families.
They said: “We are as committed as ever to offering a range of activities and programmes aimed at tackling the many challenges that are faced on a daily basis by the many people we come into contact with.
“We are determined to turn the regret and disappointment into an opportunity to renew our commitment to those children, young people and families we serve.
“The energy we might use to appeal would, we feel, be better used to continuing to make a difference in the community.”
Former Henley mayor Barry Wood, who sits on Nomad’s advisory committee, said he was concerned about the families that use the centre. He said: “What we have here is a very precious facility managed by Nomad. Losing the contract means the high level of support received by families may be put at risk by a corporate which doesn’t belong in Oxfordshire.
“This is such an important asset to this community and I believe it is in great danger.”
The change in service provider comes just over a year after the £1,327,000 redevelopment of the d:two centre, which now includes a 200-seat auditorium, meeting rooms, concert and conference facilities, book shop, cyber café, coffee shop and crèche.
Members and friends of the centre donated £667,000 and the county council donated £150,000. The rest came from a loan of £290,000 from the Baptist Union, South Oxfordshire District Council (£128,000), a variety of other sources (£40,000) and gift aid (£52,000).
As part of the redevelopment, an agreement was made to secure the building’s continued use as a children’s centre, so the county council was able to review the service provider.
The centre in Sonning Common, which serves Woodcote and Goring, is owned by the county council.
A spokeswoman for Action for Children said: “We are committed to continuing to run services in Oxfordshire that have a strong local focus and which respond to local needs.
“We believe very much in a partnership approach and we look forward to working in partnership with Nomad and others and Oxfordshire County Council.”
A spokesman for the county council said:
lLast month, Nomad was awarded a £3,500 grant by the county council to set up a youth drugs awaren