Monday, 18 October 2021

Children’s centre rescue initiative

THE children’s centre in Watlington is set to be saved but as a much smaller version.

THE children’s centre in Watlington is set to be saved but as a much smaller version.

The centre, which is based at the town’s primary school, is under threat of closure because of cuts by Oxfordshire County Council, which is to withdraw funding on March 31 next year.

However, a group of parents from the school and their counterparts in Chalgrove, who also use the facility, hope to keep it running.

The centre currently offers baby clinics, musical fun sessions and groups promoting early communication, language and literacy and costs £105,000 a year to run.

It’s hoped to keep it open on a new budget of just £25,000 a year, which would have to come from grants and fund-raising.

Councillor Stephanie Van de Pette told a meeting of Watlington Parish Council about the “community initiative”.

She said: “A group of parents and representatives from the schools has been meeting monthly.

“The schools have agreed to take over the running and maintenance costs of the building which are £2,500 a year. We’re also thinking about introducing a charging system for the open access sessions.

“It would be a reduced service from what’s currently offered. We would get a basic service and build up from there.”

She said the group planned to ask businesses in the town for help with funding.

Oxfordshire County Council had also made available a £1million fund from which every threatened centre in the county could bid for up to £30,000 to be spent over three years.

“There are lots of places we can look for money, it’s just the time pressure we’re under,” said Cllr Van de Pette.

A Friends group has been formed to do the bulk of the fund-raising.

Cllr Van de Pette said most of the staff at the centre were on short-term contracts and would be leaving. These included centre manager Helen Rints.

“She has said she will be taking it as an opportunity to step down and we can’t afford her to be honest,” she said.

Cllr Van de Pette said the group wanted the parish council to take on responsibility for employment of the staff.

She said: “My personal view is that it would be an interim arrangement — the schools doing the maintenance costs, the parish doing the employment and the ‘friends of…’ group.

“We’d like to set up a proper organisation to run it all in a much neater package in the future.”

The parish council has already allocated some money towards the running of the centre.

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

The authority said its proposals were in response to large cuts in government funding and “stark financial challenges”.

Children’s centres offer activities for under-fives and information and support for parents. Early intervention hubs, introduced in 2011, are designed to bring together services supporting children and families.

More News:

POLL: Have your say