Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Charity in talks about moving

Charity in talks about moving

A HENLEY charity could regain its ability to look after disabled children under plans to relocate.

The Chiltern Centre says it has held "promising" talks with Crest Nicholson to move from its current base in Chilterns End Close to a larger purpose-built facility at the developer’s Highlands Park estate, less than a mile away off Greys Road.

The charity has also put its existing site forward for housing development under the Henley and Harpsden joint neighbourhood plan, which is currently being revised.

The former Chilterns End care home next door is earmarked for 27 units in the plan and trustees hope a developer would be interested in buying and building on both plots.

The move comes after  Ofsted decided to cancel the Chiltern Centre’s registration as a children’s provider because for some years it has been looking after mostly young adults.

From Wednesday it must be registered with the Care Quality Commission, the adult healthcare regulator, and can only renew its Ofsted registration if it finds larger premises where the two age groups can be segregated.

Crest Nicholson is redeveloping the Highlands Farm industrial estate for 170 homes and is about to start building a proposed community centre in middle of the estate.

The developer had hoped to lease this to a sports club or community group which could use the adjacent playing fields but has struggled to find an occupant.

It held talks with the town’s army, sea and air cadet groups but without success and now says that if no one else comes forward in the next six to 12 months, it is willing to resume talks with the Chiltern Centre.

Paul Barrett, the centre’s chairman of trustees, said: "We recently had our meeting and had a very positive reaction to the idea so we’ve made our interest clear to Henley and Harpsden councils as well as the district council.

"Nothing else is going to happen for some time because the existing proposal calls for that facility to be used for sport and that would probably still be the preferred outcome. 

"However, if they don’t find anyone after another year or so they can say they’ve given it a fair crack of the whip and perhaps conclude there isn’t the appetite for more football fields in the area as we’re already well served.

"In that instance, they would look for alternatives so we can only wait and see."

The Chilterns End site was vacated in 2016.

However, the Orders of St John Care Trust and social housing provider BPHA, which jointly ran the old home, are still in negotiations with Oxfordshire County Council about surrendering their lease on the buildings.

Mr Barrett said: “If the county council regains the freehold, then clearly it would look to put it out to tender for housing development and we might come into play at that stage.

“The only proactive thing we’ve been able to do is to put our site forward under the new neighbourhood plan.

“The details of any housing would depend on local need but we wanted it to be considered, although it’s going to be a long time before anything comes to fruition.”

If the centre moved to Highlands Park, older and younger users would be able to mix for some activities and would be kept apart for overnight stays.

Mr Barrett said: "Ofsted would take a more liberal view when it comes to day care but there needs to be a clear demarcation of regulatory authority and a strict division with overnight care.

"Ofsted’s decision was highly regrettable. While we couldn’t dispute the inspector’s factual accuracy, we had hoped they could vary our registration to bring us within the law.

"Our arrangement was meeting the needs of the community and while Ofsted will tell you the children’s interests are foremost, they have a funny way of showing it."

Eight families of children under 16 had to stop visiting the centre when Ofsted’s decision was made public last month.

Several have spoken to the Henley Standard about their struggles as there are no suitable alternatives and the charity had offered a vital break from the pressures of caring around the clock.

The centre says Ofsted overlooked the arrangement for many years as it had no control over the age of clients being referred and looking after "wholly or mostly" children would have been unviable.

The watchdog made its decision after a visit in January which found the service was "inadequate" as managers had failed to report a concern to the county’s external safeguarding board.

No one was harmed but inspectors said protocol should have been followed.

Ofsted says it was forced to cancel the registration as it asked the centre to take on more children several times but found the number of older users was increasing over time.

A spokesman for the developer said: "Crest Nicholson are seeking an operator to manage the community centre and sports pitches at the Highlands Park development in Henley and these conversations are currently ongoing.

"We have engaged with a number of potential operators of the facility, including the Chiltern Centre."

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