Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Oversubscribed children's centre wants to expand

HENLEY’S new children’s centre is already looking to expand as it is oversubscribed.

The “healthy living facility” at the d:two centre in Upper Market Place opened in May and is having to turn people away due to its popularity.

The service is run by Henley Baptist Church and Nomad and they say more staff are needed to satisfy demand. About 800 families have been to the centre since it opened in July.

Speaking at the town council’s finance strategy and management committee meeting on Tuesday last week, Roger Cole, pastor of the Baptist church, said: “The support we have already had from the town council has allowed us to deliver services and become a popular and vibrant part of the community. 

“In the last four months we have regularly had 50 to 60 families through the doors each week. We are asking the council to help us to employ another part-time worker for 16 hours a week, that’s a positive step forward.”

He added: “It is vibrant and we are having to turn people away because there is not enough room.”

The centre currently opens for three mornings a week, from 9am to noon, on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. There had been Thursday afternoon sessions but these were stopped as there were not enough volunteers.

There is also a baby clinic on Tuesdays from 9.30am to 11.30am. For each session there is a small charge, which is sometimes waived by staff for families who need help.

This month they have launched sessions for new mums on Tuesday and a session for dads on Saturday mornings.

Birthday parties are occasionally held on Friday and Saturday afternoons, using the indoor and outdoor play equipment. Each party costs £135.

Karen Ashton, the centre’s manager, hopes to run more parties more frequently as the reputation of the centre continues to grow.

Mr Cole said they want to continue growing its membership. “We came here because this service is for the community and benefits Henley,” he said. “If you help us get going we think we will be able to get more in grants from other groups and continue to develop.

“We have so many volunteers but they are not always reliable and training them up is quite hard work. Having £10,000 and more staff will see it expand and become self-sufficient.”

As part of the expansion it is hoped additional services can be introduced.

These include support groups for post-natal depression and children with special needs, a twins group, a parenting training class, a child development group, family cooking sessions and afterschool clubs.

The committee recommended that the council gives £7,500 for 2018/19, with £5,000 the following year and then £2,500 the year after. A final decision will be made on October 10.

The Baptist church and Nomad had previously run the former Rainbow Children’s Centre at the same site but in 2013 it lost out to the Action for Children charity.

Earlier this year the town council chose them to run the facility, over another plan designed by parents, after Oxfordshire County Council looked to close 44 children’s centres and replace them with eight new facilities to save £8 million.

The county council awarded £21,000 to help start up the new centre from a £1 million transition fund. The town council also budgeted £10,000 to help support the revamped facility.

Thirty-four centres across the county have remained open after communities came forward to run them.

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