Thursday, 23 September 2021

Plans for children's home angers residents

RESIDENTS are fighting plans to open a home for vulnerable and troubled children in Sonning Common

RESIDENTS are fighting plans to open a home for vulnerable and troubled children in Sonning Common.

They claim the village is not an appropriate place for such a facility.

Calcot Services for Children, of Theale, has started work to convert the former Orchard Lodge care home in Baskerville Road and hopes to open the home in the late spring.

The company does not need planning permission but will require a licence from the education watchdog Ofsted. It already runs five other such homes in Berkshire.

Residents have accused the company of being “underhand” after only the nearest neighbours in Baskerville Road were notified of the redevelopment work.

Two of the five, Adrian and Penny Vanheems and Joyce Wise, passed on the news to residents in Orchard Avenue and Crowsley Way.

Mr Vanheems said: “The local residents feel this village is an entirely inappropriate location for such a facility. This area has a lot of retired and elderly people, some of whom are quite frail.

“Only about half a dozen of us in the immediate vicinity received a letter from Calcot Services for Children and that was just to notify us of building works which started this week.

“It was only when my neighbour telephoned the Calcot office that she was told that the children being placed in Orchard Lodge had severely disturbed backgrounds.”

The company’s letter invited residents to a meeting at its offices in Theale on February 22.

But Mr Vanheems, , who has written to Henley MP John Howell about his concerns, says the meeting should be held in Sonning Common.

He said: “They said they could not hold the meeting here due to financial constraints, although hiring the village hall would probably cost only about £30 for two hours.”

Mrs Wise, who has collected more then a dozen letters from residents raising concerns, said: “Every letter is saying this is not the right place for them. Why not put the home in Didcot, which is up and coming?

“We’ve got nothing here but the youth club at the school. There are no sports facilities. In Didcot they’ve got a great big sports complex and somewhere like that makes more sense.”

Paul Harrison, South Oxfordshire District Council member for Sonning Common, criticised the company’s approach, saying: “It’s a very underhand way of handling things, particularly holding the meeting away from the area you’re planning to put the home.”

He said the children may not be from South Oxfordshire and that the company “may be dumping kids with problems in one area to try to offload them to another county, which would be wrong”.

But Douglas Kedge, chairman of Sonning Common Parish Council, supported the plans.

He said: “I’m sure members of the public will come to our next meeting to indicate their concerns.

“We have looked into it and our understanding is that it’s a home for six young people who have problems. It is going to be well-supervised.

“My personal view is that it does not seem unreasonable from what we understand. These children have to go somewhere and be looked after.”

Rachel Redgewell, managing director at Calcot Services for Children, said: “The compnay was set up more than 25 years ago with the sole purpose of providing traumatised and very vulnerable children with the highest level of care and support, to enable them to heal from past experiences of abuse.

“We have continued to achieve outstanding outcomes for children in providing them with a safe place to live while celebrating their positive achievements and contributions to society.

“We very much look forward to being welcomed into the community of Sonning Common and for our children to receive the support and respect that every child deserves.”

Orchard Lodge has been empty since October 2014 when the 11 residents of the home were rehoused after the owners, Nageeb and Naz Aubdool, from Calcot, were arrested on suspicion of wilful neglect.

Police said later that no action would be taken against the couple, who had owned the property since 2009.

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