You probably won’t have heard about this very special specialist centre – and you almost certainly haven’t heard about the financial position it’s been landed in. But it’s a vital part of the care and development of very vulnerable toddlers in our area.
Devizes and District Opportunity Centre is an independent charity which was originally set up in 1978 by a small number of parents who needed help for themselves and for their children with special needs.
Ever since then, the Centre has provided specialist early years educational and therapeutic care for children from birth to five years old, who have disabilities, learning difficulties or complex, life threatening health conditions. It is now designated as one of Wiltshire’s four District Specialist Centres.
Forty-two children and their parents are supported at the main centre in Devizes and a further ten at the satellite centre in Tidworth. The catchment area covers the towns of Devizes, Marlborough, Pewsey, Tidworth and Melksham and all their outlying villages.
Children come to two sessions each week and each has their own key worker. The staff team consists of one full-time and eleven part-time highly trained and experienced pre-school teachers and four trained volunteers – that gives a minimum ratio of one staff member to every two children in each session.
Parents have the opportunity to play with their children, learn how best to support and stimulate their development with support and advice from experienced staff and medical therapists. Parents can also benefit from mutual support and friendship with other parents.
There are also preschool sessions for children over two-and-a-half who attend on their own.
The centre works closely with consultant paediatricians, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. It also works with other charitable organisations such as Portage and Home Start. The centre’s policy is to ensure children benefit from a ‘Whole Team Around the Child’ approach.
When children join the Centre staff take approximately eight weeks to assess them, identify their strengths and their needs and then devise an individual developmental plan. Betty Newman, who has been involved with the centre for twenty-one years and now manages it, explains: “We concentrate on maximizing each child’s ability, we might only deal with tiny steps of progress but we celebrate every single one”.
Julia and PaddyTwo-and-a-half-year-old Paddy and Tom are two children who come from Marlborough to the centre in Devizes with their mothers Julia and Nancy. Both mothers say the centre has done wonders for their children.
Julia and Nancy support one another and as Tom’s mum Nancy doesn’t drive, Paddy’s mum Julia brings them in her car. As we shall see, transport can be a major problem for some of the centre’s families.
Over the years the Devizes building has been enlarged and improved. It now has a multi-sensory stimulation room, a soft play room, a computer area with specially adapted equipment, and two large play rooms – one of which has an under-floor sand pit which can easily be opened up to provide a real get-in-and-get-sandy experience. There are also outside areas to play in and explore – when it’s not raining.
Betty says: “Although we have excellent premises and equipment our most important resource is our trained staff.” And she’s adamant that she must be guided “by what the children need and what their parents want.”
The development of the centre over the years has been something of a roller-coaster ride as local authorities have changed, policies have changed at local and national level – and funding has changed. When early years education and specialist intervention became national policy, the centre was commissioned by the Council to provide specialist services for under-fives. Their funding was increased which enabled them to consolidate and develop the service that could be offered.Nancy and Tom
The centre is inspected by Ofsted – in May last year the Tidworth centre which had opened just five months earlier, was rated outstanding. And Betty sends quarterly reports to Wiltshire Council and there’s an annual inspection by Council officials.
Then in 2010 Wiltshire Council, which still commissions the centre as a service it is obliged to provide, cut its funding by £13,000 to £84,110 a year. And before March 2014, the Council will be putting this service out to tender again.
The centre has always had to raise some extra money, but this year with the added pressure caused by the funding cuts, the centre’s trustees need to raise £70,000 in order to maintain the high quality of its service. At the end of the last financial year the centre was left with a deficit of £10,000 and it looks as though that will be matched this year. This eats into the reserves which every organisation that employs paid staff must keep.
There's always been a reliance on community support and the centre has some very generous donors – often anonymous. The soft play room was added by a local builder who decided not to send in his invoice. A grant from BBC’s Children in Need pays the costs of one and a half members of staff.
Devizes Lions and Round Table have helped. Recently Melksham Rotary have raised funds and Waitrose in Marlborough gave one of their monthly Green Token community grants. In June Devizes-based Seren Events Management organised a ‘Roaring Twenties’ evening which raised £4,500.
The future of funding in this area looks most uncertain as the coalition government plans to take money from the early intervention grant to fund the new free nursery places for two-year-olds from poorer families, and to remove the ring-fence round the rest of this grant so local authorities can use it as they wish.
There is an urgent need to raise more money from communities the centre serves – Marlborough among them. And, to return to transport problems, there is an urgent search underway to find volunteer drivers-with-a-car to take children and parents to the centre from more rural areas.
The centre may have a colourful and well-equipped soft play room, but it does not offer a soft option for these children and their parents. The sessions are intense and tiring for all concerned. Whether children have temporary developmental delay problems or more lasting conditions, they and their parents need specialist help.
Betty Newman: “Our parents don’t have the security of knowing what the future will bring for them or their child. Each child’s difficulties and families situation is different however they all live with very high levels of anxiety and many experience varying degrees of isolation. I always say we haven’t got a magic wand here at the centre, but we deal with reality. Our job is to support and reassure parents and to give each child the chance to reach their potential by providing opportunities they would not otherwise have.”
The centre’s telephone number is 01380 726077 - half-term starts on October 22 - so please leave a message.
Shop and office workers in Marlborough are being urged to get the sack, in aid of Prospect Hospice.
Marlborough's local hospice is running its second annual Santa day on Friday, December 7 and is looking for 100 people to dress up as Father Christmas and raise much-needed funds for the charity.
Everyone who registers will receive an ID card, a collection bucket and a Santa suit, and participants can spend as few or as many hours as they like during the day collecting much-needed funds for the charity.
Sheryl Crouch, head of fundraising at Prospect Hospice, says: “What we’re really hoping for is to have lots of Father Christmases all across Swindon and North Wilts collecting money for us on the same day – it would be fantastic if we could get 100 people to do it.
“The good thing about it is that you don’t need to stand in the street or go door-to-door, or vary your normal routine during the day to do it, or even take a day off work. You simply dress as Santa for the day, take a collecting bucket with you and collect money from whoever you meet.
“It’s only £5 to register, and for that you get everything you need, including a free Santa suit to keep. It’s a really simple idea that will hopefully be a lot of fun for everyone and help raise some money towards our work.”
If you are keen to don the big man’s red suit for the day and help raise funds for Prospect, please visit www.prospect-hospice.net/santa
Mayor Edwina Fogg toasts Apple Day eventMarlborough went apple crazy today as the town celebrated its annual Apple Day event and showed off the rare Wiltshire apple breeds saved for generations to come.
Cornet players Stephanie Browning and Harry Austen from St John’s Academy played a welcome fanfare as the clock at St Mary’s struck 11 – and on to the town hall entrance stepped Mayor Edwina Fogg and her entourage.
She reminded an audience of supporters that it was her husband, Nick Fogg, twice mayor before her, who had originally called a meeting of people interested in creating a Marlborough community orchard.
This was taken up by inspirational Apple Day founder Philippa Davenport, proudly standing alongside the mayor, who announced: “I was so caught up in the vision that I joined the founding committee.”
“Today is Marlborough’s annual celebration of orchard fruits in general, apples in particular, especially those rare Wiltshire varieties.”
“This time last year many of you joined in a display and tasting of these rare Wiltshire apples, and an impressive 91 pledges were made to buy them so that the Marlborough community orchard team could arrange for them to be grafted.”
Apple being juiced in the High StreetWell, they have arrived. They are doing a tour of the High Street in a trailer as we speak. So a big thank you to everyone who sponsored a tree and to Barters Nursery for grafting them.
Mayor cuts the tape for opening of Apple Day town hall events watched by founder Philippa Davenport“Once planted, Marlborough can truthfully boast that we have saved their gene bank for our children’s children to inherit.”
And she added: “If you missed out last year, you can still share in this important and delicious fruit festival. Lots of extra saplings were produced and you can buy them here today.”
“This time next week I shall be planting the first tree of our royal diamond jubilee plantation up on the Common.”
“So happy Apple Day everyone…happy Apple Day.”
The crowd responded Happy Apple Day amid warm applause, figures showing that more than 1,000 people, many of them families, attended the event.
The Mayor then cut the red ribbon to open up the displays upstairs and downstairs in the town hall, special entertaining games and events for children among the enticements.
Juliet and Peter Kindersley from Sheepdrove Organic Farm sponsors of the apple art competition plus Philippa Davenport
Marlborough Apple Day
Art Competition Results
ART CATEGORY A(Age 11 and under)
Phoebe CazalyA31 For painting skills. Highly Commended
Tom HoleA30 For drawing skills. Highly Commended
Lawrence Bett-HewittA03 Apple and a half Winner
Excellent composition – well executed in a difficult medium.
ART CATEGORY B(Age 12 – 16)
Gabby ChurchB06 Little old apple tree Highly Commended
For attention to detail and the creation of ‘atmosphere’.
Isabella Hutton B05 Fruit vine Winner
For impressive use of colour
ART CATEGORY C(Adult 17 and over)
Robin Buchanan-DunlopC18 "Autumn" Highly Commended
Well designed composition. The apples are all individual and well drawn
Carolyn DavisC05 Apple Noggin Dobbin Highly Commended
This is a good idea with a lovely sense of fun.
Clare BickfordC09 "Take Three" Winner
This is a well designed painting with a lovely use of colour that makes each apple very individual. The apples and their shadows are well observed.
sponsored by Sheepdrove Organic Farm
supporting local foods for local people
Moving tributes were paid yesterday (Friday) to Derek Wolfe, Marlborough’s late town clerk who died suddenly last month, at his funeral service held in Axminster Methodist Church, Devon.
The church where he and his widow, Lynette, were married a decade ago, was packed with relatives and friends, together with 16 members and staff of Marlborough town council, headed by the Mayor, Councillor Edwina Fogg.
Mr Wolfe, 58, who only became Marlborough’s town clerk in January, died in the Great Western Hospital, Swindon, from a ruptured aortic aneurysm after waking in pain and calling an ambulance himself.
“Derek’s death has left us all in shock, hardly able to comprehend his absence from us,” the mayor told the congregation.
“I should like to dwell on two aspects of Derek that Lynette shared with me. First, his professionalism: ‘He would have hated the idea that he left any unfinished business on his desk,’ ” she said.
“It was a poignant moment for me when I entered his empty office and saw his tidy and well-ordered papers: there was a sad silence in that room that spoke of our loss. His approach to his multi- faceted tasks was organised and thorough.”
“The second thing that Lynette pointed out was his love of Marlborough –‘He absolutely loved the town and his home here’.”
“Derek rented a house a few minutes from the town council offices and stayed there during the working week, giving him time to join in and support several initiatives in the community, for example, he became a valued director of the Communities Market and an active member of Transition Marlborough.”
She quoted too the tribute paid by Father John Blacker, of St Thomas More, Marlborough, when he said prayers for Derek at the last town council meeting, declaring: “We shall miss a good man and a good town clerk who served the people here in Marlborough so well.”
And she added: “Townsfolk had a great respect for his willingness to help them with their various requests and inquiries -- that feeling on their part was expressed in the many messages of condolence we received on his loss.”
“Our office staff remarked on his almost old fashioned gentlemanly manner and observed that he never had a bad word to say about anyone.”
The sermon was given by the Rector, the Rev Brian Hadfield, and there was a poignant address too from his widow.
“She talked about ‘My Derek’ and how special he was to her in what was a very moving and touching tribute,” Val Compton, one of the town councillors present, told Marlborough News Online. “I really take my hat off to her. It was truly amazing, a very fitting tribute.”
The service was followed by cremation at Wimple, near Exeter.
A new estate agency has made an audacious appearance on Marlborough High Street by taking over the former offices of top agent Carter Jonas.
And Edward Hall (pictured), the man in charge of Smiths Gore, who was once a tank captain in the armoured Royal Hussars, told Marlborough News Online: “Yes, I really have put my tanks on the lawn. I mean Carter Jonas, Chesterton Humberts and Hamptons are here for me to take on. That’s the exciting challenge.”
“Carter Jonas didn’t know they were letting in the opposition at the time, though they were surprised when there was a new tenant and they were asked to do a structural survey for Smiths Gore, the new tenant.”
Already Clare Manley, from Downer & Company and formerly Strakers, has joined 52-year-old Mr Hall, who quit agents Strutt and Parker in Newbury to take up his new role, and his aim is to increase his staff to five in the coming months.
He laughed as he recalled how Smith Gore has thrown down the gauntlet to the opposition at a time of economic turmoil when some agents are drastically down-sizing and others disappearing.
“Strategically we believe there is still a market place for bespoke estate agency that is not involved in stack them high and sell them cheap but to look after your client and use the Smiths Gore philosophy into selling houses,” declared Mr Hall.
“It is quite an aggressive strategy of building a business when most people are declining, consolidating or closing down in the economic doldrums.”
“It’s tough for vendors who are still looking for good value, good prices for their houses. For buyers, they are now much more cautious, they know that they can’t borrow money and are conscious of the cost of running a house.”
“All of a sudden it’s a bit like the 80’s when suddenly the fuel price went up. People are tending to pull in their lifestyle at the moment, introducing double glazing, secondary glazing, woodchip bowlers, things that are cheaper to run are easier to sell at the moment than traditional old country houses or country cottages, which are difficult to maintain and very expensive to heat.”
“We are seeing a shift where newer houses and houses that are well insulated tend are becoming more popular again. Money is actual real money all of a sudden, people are spending a pound, they are not borrowing a pound. And that makes them thing hard before actually committing themselves to buying something.”
But Smiths Gore, who have adopted a progressive policy of investment by buying up other agencies, are not new to Marlborough. For three years they have had an office on the Business Park, but one devoted to land sales and management, as they have been since they were founded 160 years ago.
“We call ourselves the manager of rural Britain,” explained Mr Hall. “But selling houses, which has been my background since 2001, is something we are doing much more actively now.”
Marlborough and the nearby rural villages are the prime target. “As agents this is an opportunity for us,” he added. The market will settle. It is settling.”
“Houses have been over-priced and we are seeing a long overdue correction. Houses will become more affordable but people need to buy and sell because their circumstances are changing. We are in challenging times and that means times when opportunities present themselves.”
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
And he pointed out: “Marlborough is a vibrant town, a town of choice, and there are so many reasons for living and working in the area. We have good pubs, good shops, schools and great walks, good parking and a friendly view for those who are visiting.”
“It is a destination where people want to come and live. A desirable location that has a great feel.”
“And to be based on the High Street in Marlborough – No 42 – is a great opportunity for me to build a new team, a great excitement and, frankly, a great privilege.”