Saturday, 25 September 2021

‘Healthy living space’ plan for doomed children’s centre

THE children’s centre in Henley could be transformed into a “healthy living space” under plans to

THE children’s centre in Henley could be transformed into a “healthy living space” under plans to save it from closure.

The move comes after Oxfordshire County Council announced that funding for the Rainbow Children’s Centre, which is based at the d:two centre in Upper Market Place, would cease in March as part of cost-cutting measures.

The council had planned to close all 44 of its children’s centres and replace them with eight new facilities in a bid to save £8 million but members voted to keep 18 centres open.

Now a new model for the Henley centre has been put forward by Henley Baptist Church that would see the integration of the children’s centre into the d:two centre, which it owns, to develop a “more flexible space” for children, young people and families.

Roger Cole, pastor of the church, said: “I think there’s a great need for it in Henley.

“We want to continue to work with families and children right across the board, from very small children to older members of the family .”

The living space, which would be managed by the church, would cost almost £30,000 to set up and run for the first 12 months.

It is proposed to offer soft play sessions for all as well as targeted groups and keep fit sessions and to host children’s parties and classes by personal trainers for their clients, which could generate income.

The county council gave a grant of £150,000 towards the redevelopment of the d:two building, which was completed in 2011, and the church took out a loan of £40,000, which is still  outstanding.

Mr Cole said: “We need to run it with some sort of return and are trying to do something that will pay for itself. We want to run it on a small staff who can do it effectively. If we can pay off our loan we won’t have that pressure in having to get that money every month.

“I think we’re going to get more people using the centre because at the moment it’s not used that much.

“I think we have got expertise within our church and they are going to be able to deal with a lot more people. We have got until March. We’re hoping that the town council and others will look at our proposal.

“We might need to adapt it slightly but we’re hoping they don’t want to counter propose something and we’re hoping they’ll see that this is worth doing.”

A report to a meeting of the council’s town and community committee said the “healthy living space” would allow space for free play and structured activities.

Some toys would be retained and there would be mobile soft play equipment for pre-school children which would be stowed away to leave space for other activities. There would also be exercise mats and basic keep-fit equipment that could be used by parents, children and young people, supervised by trained staff.

The space would also be available for group meetings and discussions. These would be designed around healthy living, food and nutrition and tackling negative eating habits and other addictions.

The children’s centre is currently run by Action for Children, which pays rent and service charges.

Youth and community project Nomad is also based at the d:two centre and will continue its work. Other services include a community café, music groups, children’s groups and mother and toddler groups. It is also used for keep fit training, a harm minimisation service, monthly recovery café, choir practices and church services and activities.

From October the café will be overseen by a qualified nutritionist with plans to incorporate healthy meals specifically for children.

Emma Taylor, who founded the Save Oxfordshire’s Children’s Centres campaign in 2013 after a previous threat of closure, said: “I think it’s brilliant that there’s some chance that we can keep the centre open and for pretty much the original purpose i.e. for children and families.

“It was a purpose-built building for Henley families and the important thing is to keep it open. I would hope we can keep that way of bringing together the community and people being able to be fed into help if needed.”

Mrs Taylor, of Western Avenue, Henley, who sits on the council’s children’s centre working group, added: “It’s about keeping the cohesive community feel. I just think it’s great there are some really positive, achievable proposals on the table.

“The church has put the community at the heart of what it’s doing.”

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