Monday, 15 August 2022

‘Families would suffer from centre closure’

FAMILIES would suffer if the Henley children’s centre closed, says a community worker.

FAMILIES would suffer if the Henley children’s centre closed, says a community worker.

Sue Prior, leader of the youth and community group Nomad, said that despite its image, the town did have people in need.

“The level of disadvantage in Henley doesn’t show up,” she said. “That is one of the battles we have always fought.”

She indicated that Nomad may be willing to take over the running of the centre, which shares the d:two centre in Market Place with Nomad and Henley Baptist Church, which owns the building.

Mrs Prior was speaking at a meeting of the town council’s town and community committee after a presentation by an Oxfordshire County Council officer about why it can no longer fund the centre. The authority plans to replace its 44 children’s centres and seven early intervention hubs with eight children and family centres to save £6 million.

The centres in Henley and Sonning Common will close by March unless communities come forward to run them.

The county council has pledged to create a one-off £1million fund which communities can apply for to help provide alternative care for vulnerable children.

Mrs Prior said: “Yet again Henley is stuck on the edge of the county and it suffers. We know that there is deprivation here and it is not just financial — it crosses the classes.

“For the targeted work that we do with troubled families here in Henley we have a staff of four and we are working at full capacity.”

She wouldn’t commit Nomad to taking over the Henley centre, which it has run previously, but said: “We are interested because we know many families in this town and community who will potentially suffer if the children’s centre does close down.”

Maria Godfrey, the county’s council’s early intervention manager, said the centres had to be restructured in order to save money.

“We have got two problems — we have got budget savings and we have had a huge rise in the amount of child protection work that we are doing,” she said.

“Our statutory social care teams are overwhelmed in terms of the work they do. It’s the early intervention work that, for the most part, is not statutory, so when the county council proposes the budget that is where the savings are going to have to fall.”

Ms Godfrey said the council chose not to have a centre in Henley any more because there were fewer needy children and families than in other areas but it would look to provide an outreach service.

“You clearly are in an affluent area but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have issues,” she said.

Speaking from the public gallery, Councillor Martin Akehurst said: “Henley has a food bank, we have a lot of problems here, but we get seen through the people who attend the regatta rather than through the eyes of the people who live here.”

Councillor Sam Evans said the town should take the opportunity to take over the centre and “work with the right local people to potentially do a better job”.

Speaking from the public gallery, Councillor Dylan Thomas, said his wife and three-year-old son used the centre as he was often away from home for work.

He said the centre was a “bastion of support” where people made friends and helped each other.

“I wonder what we can do to save this centre from closing,” he said.

“We have a lot of money in the bank which is earning a pittance. What is a better investment than the children in this town?”

The committee agreed to form a working group to investigate how it would respond to the planned closure of the centre.

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