Saturday, 17 November 2018

Church beats parents with bid to run children's centre

THE future of Henley children’s centre appears to have been secured with plans to make it part of a “healthy living space”.

Town councillors have agreed to support a proposal by Henley Baptist Church to manage the facility rather than an alternative plan drawn up by parents.

The move comes after Oxfordshire County Council decided to withdraw funding from the Rainbow Children’s Centre, which is based at the d:two centre in Upper Market Place, which the church owns, from March.

The new living space would cost about £36,000 to set up and deliver the services in the first year.

It would be a “flexible” space for children, young people and families offering soft play and keep-fit sessions.

Group meetings would be designed around healthy living, food and nutrition and tackling negative eating habits and other addictions.

The centre could also host children’s parties and classes by personal trainers, which would generate income.

The town council’s children’s centre working group decided to endorse the church’s plans as it offers the premises, governance and expertise alongside youth and community group Nomad, which is also based at the d:two centre.

Members heard that the business model relied on charging £4.50 an hour for the soft play sessions but the church agreed to look at its figures again.

They also pledged to work with parents on an advisory group or governance board after the group’s chairwoman, Councillor Sara Abey, raised concerns about the lack of early years preventative work in the church’s proposal in spotting potential abuse or neglect.

She favoured the alternative model from parents for a “holistic brand” costing about £65,000 a year to run but which would be self-financing.

A report on the parents’ plan said the proposed location of the centre was not decided but activities would include messy play, problem solving through play, toy time and music and dance. It would offer a range of services under the guidance of qualified practitioners. The centre would aim to earn about 70 per cent of its income from charges for activities with the rest coming from sponsorship.

Henley Baptist Church elder Mark Sayers said he felt that the parents’ proposal would “muddy the water”.

He said: “We at the church are very supportive of having an offer that is great for the community and it’s clear from the feedback that the children’s centre is much valued.

“From a governance angle there’s a track record of successfully running community organisations over 20 years. There’s an employment structure Henley Baptist Church can offer.”

He was not in favour of merging the proposals, saying: “We’re not an autocratic organisation but unless there’s leadership the thing just flounders.

“We would say ‘yes’ to a group that looks at the service offer — an advisory group — but there does need to be leadership and accountability.”

Church pastor Roger Cole said: “We would prefer to say, ‘if you have got a better offer, we would be okay withdrawing our proposal as long as the rent and the costs are paid and you came to an agreement to do these things if you want to use our building’. We’re trying to start with what is possible with the short time we have got and trying to make it a better service as time goes on.”

Asked about the preventative work the church would offer, he said: “People will respond and spot things so there’s expertise there for that work to take place. That’s an important aspect.”

Councillor Dylan Thomas said: “We want to get the best of both business plans… then ensure there’s a revenue stream so the children’s centre can survive and provide all the services we want.”

Councillor Ian Reissmann said: “The main differences between them are the building — where it’s going to operate from — governance, management and employees, who’s going to employ them.”

The children’s centre is currently run by the charity Action for Children, which pays rent and service charges.

The town council may award a one-off grant to enable the service to continue depending on the result of an application for up to £30,000 from a “transitional” fund set up by the county council.

The full council will discuss the issue at its meeting next week.

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