Thursday, 21 October 2021

Anger at loss of children’s centres contract

THE manager of a youth and community group in Henley has spoken of her disappointment at losing the contract

THE manager of a youth and community group in Henley has spoken of her disappointment at losing 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, and Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common.

The centres, which help needy families and children from birth to age five, will be run by Action for Children, a national charity, from April 1 after Oxfordshire County Council put the contract out to tender.

Sue Prior, who has worked for Nomad for more than a decade, said she was “extremely disappointed”.

Speaking at a meeting of the town council’s finance, strategy and management committee, she said: “We started the work from scratch and developed it and now it feels that it has been taken away from us.

“The local knowledge that we have and built up over the years is lost. People like myself and other members of staff have been there a long time — there is the added value.

“In Henley we have families who have got issues that don’t go away when the children become six. They need ongoing support in the local community and in Nomad we can provide it.”

Mrs Prior said that Ofsted inspections had made Nomad’s work more bureaucratic. “They draw up a list that every children’s centre has to take on board so every week there are new things that we should be doing, another policy or other,” she said.

“For a small organisation such as ours that can be very difficult to maintain and manage. In a sense it will be a bit of a relief to not have these sorts of pressures and be released to do other things.”

Nomad was founded in Henley in 1996 and has grown from detached youth work to embracing whole families.

Over the last year it has made more than 4,200 “interventions” with children, young people and parents.

Mrs Prior said: “We work with young people struggling in school, inhibiting antisocial behaviour. Sometimes there is drugs and alcohol abuse, sometimes anger and communication issues. There are all sorts of issues that cause people to get into trouble.”

Nomad has received annual grants from the town council, ranging from £13,000 to £5,000 last year.

Mrs Prior, who was awarded a town medal earlier this year for her volunteer work, told the committee: “We have been immensely grateful for your support over the years. We would like to ask if there is any possibility that you could increase it.

“Our heart is in the community of Henley and we want to make a difference and to be able to do that more and more.”

Councillor Jeni Wood replied: “It is very important that you are there and I would like to give you every spare penny.

“I had the privilege of opening the children’s centre. I remember the excitement of everybody there. The centre is absolutely fantastic. The parents are so grateful for the work that you have done.”

She was “cross” with the county council for awarding the contract to a national charity instead of “Henley people looking after Henley people”.

“People have worked their socks off to get it going and make it a success and suddenly the carpet has been pulled from underneath their feet,” said Cllr Wood.

Town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith said the county council had to be careful with its spending.

The service would still be provided but it was important for the families that there was a “seamless transfer” from Nomad to Action for Children, he said.

The committee agreed to set aside £10,000 in next year’s budget that could be used as a grant for Nomad.

Action for Children, which has an annual turnover of about £184million, will become responsible for 14 of the 15 voluntary sector-run centres in Oxfordshire on a two-year contract.

A county council spokesman said: “The successful bidder was chosen because they demonstrated as part of the tendering process that they could deliver the best quality service and were best equipped in terms of having the capacity to deliver.”

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