Monday, 20 September 2021

Henley Children's centre threatened again

A CHILDREN?S centre in Henley could close as part of a shake-up of services across Oxfordshire designed to save more than £6million

A CHILDREN?S centre in Henley could close as part of a shake-up of services across Oxfordshire designed to save more than £6million.

The county council says it can no longer afford to retain all its 44 children?s centres and seven early intervention hubs.

The centre based at the d:two centre and another at Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common and the Charlgrove and Watlington centre are all under threat.

The council stresses that no decisions have been made yet but that all centres are at risk as they are ?not sustainable?. It plans to create a single service for children up to the age of 19 over the next three years.

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.

Emma Taylor, who founded the Save Oxfordshire?s Children?s Centres Campaign in 2013 after a previous threat of closure, said: ?It is extremely disappointing after all the work we did to save them that they are straight back in the firing line.

?I know that money is being cut by the Government and that the council has to make extremely difficult decisions, but it feels as if children?s centres are seen as an easy target. We should be investing in them.

?It is worrying for Henley as we could be seen as an area without a proportionally high level of families. Whether the fact we are a centre for a lot of rural communities would help I don?t know.?

Mrs Taylor, who lives in Western Avenue, attends the bumps and baby classes at the Henley centre and says that this provided an opportunity to meet new people and make friends.

She said: ?The reasons why we didn?t want them to close last time still stand. They are a vital place where people can go which is safe and where you get to know the staff and you are made to feel welcome.

?I have been able to make friends and that?s one of things that is so vital and when they cut funding they don?t take any of that into account.?

Town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith has pledged his support for the Henley and Sonning Common centres.

He said: ?I will do my best to keep them open, running and working. It is a question of how we can maximise the benefit of everything. We will keep some open but it is a question of doing it in hubs. We will do a consultation to find out what the best model is but I can?t rule out anything.

?We are making hard choices and decisions and some centres will close but I will certainly do my best as the centres in Henley and Sonning Common are valued. There are only those two in this part of the county and there are some fairly close together, certainly in Oxford, and they could be amalgamated.?

Both the Henley and Sonning Common Rainbow centres used to be run by Nomad, a youth and community project also at the d:two centre.

Nomad lost the council contract in March 2013 and the centre is now run by Action for Children, a national charity whose two-year contract expires next year.

Cllr Nimmo Smith said he would support Nomad running the Henley centre again if it helped save money.

?It may be that the town council considers subsiding it,? he said.

Tim Prior, the youth and family team manager at Nomad, said: ?The centre is a valuable resource in the local community for the families with children and it would be a real shame if something did happen to it but we certainly do not have the capacity and or the staffing or finances to take it over.?

The county council?s cabinet has asked a cross-party group of councillors to look at the service to consider how savings could be made.

The children?s service would have to make £6million of savings on a total budget of £16million as part of overall cuts of at least £290million to be made by 2018.

Councillor Melinda Tilley, lead member for children?s services, said: ?Maintaining services through the current network of centres is not sustainable and alternative options for these buildings should be sought. The council is determined to continue to support vulnerable children and their families, despite the funding challenges we face.?

In October 2013, Mrs Taylor launched a successfull campaign against the threatened closure of the Henley and Sonning Common children?s centres by the county council.

In April last year, the Henley Standard revealed that a review was being carried out into how the Henley and Sonning Common centres were run and that some staff were to lose their jobs. Action for Children said the review would enable it to provide a more flexible service.

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