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Funding squeeze hits our area’s only specialist early years centre

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 PaddyJulia 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 TomNancy 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.

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Your guide to local fireworks displays

Enjoy bonfire night in safety at a professionally organised eventEnjoy bonfire night in safety at a professionally organised eventRemember, remember the fifth of November... or the 9th, or 10th. Whenever you decide to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, do it affordably and safely at a professionally organised event. Here are some of the events in our area.

Friday, November 9

Marlborough Town Football Club bonfire (7pm) and fireworks display (8pm). Hot food, adult bar. Tickets Adult £3, child £2, under 4 free. Limited parking available at the Elcot Lane clubhouse. In the case of bad weather the event will be rescehduled to Sunday, November 11.

6pm, St Katharine's Primary School, Savernake. Professional firework display, bonfire, licensed bar, hot food. Tickets £10 per car in advance (from the school), £15 on the night. SOLD OUT

The bonfire will be lit at Woodborough School at 6.15pm with fireworks going up an hour later. Attractions include hot soup, mulled wine and a barbecue. Parking is at the Woodborough Social Centre (in nearby Smithy Lane) and the Woodborough Garden Centre, where a minibus will be available to transport guests to (between 6.30pm & 7pm) and from the event.

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Pewsey dons its glad rags for carnival procession

Pewsey did what it does best on Saturday night – threw a spectacular celebration of community spirit to which everyone was invited.

And as the climactic end to the 114th Pewsey Carnival – a fortnight of fun and frivolity – the procession was one of the best in recent years.

It took three quarters of an hour from the bang of the rocket – signifying the start of the procession at 7.30pm – for the floats to wend its way King Arthur's statue in the centre of the village, where strings of coloured lights were reflected on the surface of the River Avon.

Once the first float arrived, the crowds were treated to over an hour of entertainment as the illuminated procession passed by. 

It was 70 minutes of music, colour and smiling faces led by the King's Korner Band and followed by the carnival's royal family: carnival queen Sophie Bryant and her attendants Jade Nelson and Katherine Lofthouse, carnival princess Courtney Clark, carnival prince Alfie Thorne and flower girl Sophie Farr. 

There were winners, of course, but no losers; there wasn't a bad float among the lot. Individuals, clubs, pubs, families, and friends spent weeks preparing costumes and floats, and the effort really showed.

And even when things went wrong, the crowd lapped up the spectacle. The sight of a group of lads in from the Moonrakers Inn re-hitching their Hawaii 5-0 float to the tractor in Hawaiian shirts and comedy police helmets garnered the biggest cheer of the night.

The winners in the large float (over 9m) category were Party Animals for their jubilee themed Queen on Tour float, which saw adults dressed as Beefeater and Queen's Guards while kids, dressed as Freddie Mercury in trademark yellow jackets and black moustaches, mimed to the hits of Queen.

Pinball Wizard – a tribute to The Who – scooped second prize, with one member of the Has Beens playing the Pete Townsend role of Tommy, while others dressed as wizards, or donned silver mini dresses and platform boots to play the parts of pinballs. In third place was Face Envy's Big Top Circus, featuring adults and children in clown and circus performer costumes.

In the smaller float (under 9m) category, there was a tie between the Amor and Plank Families' Don't Wok the Boat, a Chinese dragon boat manned by coolies and Kevin Arthur and Friends with Madonna – a tribute to the singer's Like A Prayer video, with a mix of raunchy and religious costumes. In third place were the Pewsey Old Broilers, who performed YMCA by the Village People while dressed as chickens.

The community and beginner class for newcomers and smaller community groups was won by Russell Fishlock & Co and their Bee Gees tribute. Russ Buck with Millionaires on Tour scooped second place, with Paula Baker's Toy Soldiers third.

In the hand-propelled float/cart category, Pewsey Vale Running Club took podium position with their Rocky Horror Show. Saffron, Hannah and Lucy were second with their The Yo Ho Ho’s, and in third place was Spanswick and Lund – The Full Moon Party

Helps and Martins' Mad Hatters Tea Party won the walkers category, with De Pass' Robin Hood in second place and Amor and Friends' Dad's Army in third. The Ron Oram Cup for best local float was won by the Amor and Plank Families' Don't Wok the Boat.

For more pictures see our Facebook page at

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The Diana makes her way home from her successful voyage to the Paralympics

Memories of the Paralympics surely won’t fade for those disabled people who visited or stayed on board the Bruce Trust’s canal boat The Diana, which made the long journey by canal and river to play its part in London 2012.

Now, The Diana is on the final stage of her five week, one hundred and sixty five mile round trip to the Paralympics  – on her way back to her home base at Great Bedwyn. During her time moored on the Regent’s Canal, as near to the Olympic Stadium as the strict security would allow, The Diana provided accommodation to dozens of disabled visitors from all over the United Kingdom who were visiting the Paralympics.

The Diana is especially adapted to take those who are wheelchair-bound. Amongst those welcomed aboard were a group of men and women from the armed services who are getting specialist treatment with the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court.

For the final part of The Diana’s epic journey back to Great Bedwyn, she is again being crewed by members of local Rotary Clubs who are offering day trips to groups of people with special needs.

The founder of the Bruce Trust, David Bruce, says the whole adventure to the Paralympics has been a huge success: “It has given my Trust a unique opportunity not only to provide day trips en route each way to local groups of disabled people, but also to provide an invaluable overnight base near the Olympic Stadium for dozens of disabled visitors to the Paralympics. None of this would have been possible without my Trust’s wonderful voluntary helpers and, of course, the many members of Newbury, Hungerford and Thatcham Rotary Clubs”.

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Longboard charity trekkers pay tribute to friendly Marlborough

Longboarders at Marlborough skate parkLongboarders at Marlborough skate parkFive longboarders who rode from London to Cardiff in a bid to raise £10,000 for charity have paid tribute to the hospitality of the people of Marlborough – one of their official staging posts.

The sportsmen were riding longboards – which are skateboards with a longer deck and bigger wheels, and are designed for transport, as opposed to their shorter stunt-oriented cousins – along the A4 in a gruelling 176-mile challenge made tougher by the fact that they carried all their kit on their backs.

Setting off from London last Friday, Steve Matthews, Matthew Hernon, Will Aldington, Anthony Pierce and James Jones finally arrived in Cardiff on Monday (August 20).

And during their scheduled overnight stop in Marlborough they took time to visit the hipped mini ramp, wave to kicker, quarterpipes, tombstone, jumpbox and rollover of the town's skate park – designed by professional skateboarder Mike Foreman and considered to be one of the best in the UK.

Steve told Marlborough News Online this week: “We camped at Savernake, which was lovely, and the following morning we were greeted by some really nice people in the town, including a group of ladies who bought us bacon rolls from the Food Gallery.

“Marlborough is a great town and the people were very hospitable, I'm glad we chose to stop here. We were even given £40 in cash from lots of random passers by.”

“We completed the 176 miles in four days, finally reaching the millennium stadium at 6.30pm on Monday evening 

“We're all covered in blisters and ache like you wouldn't believe. There are some big uphills past Marlborough, although I did reach 36mph a few miles out on a massive downhill section, a new personal best.

“The fundraising has nearly reached £5,000, which is amazing, and we were even mentioned on the Chris Evans' breakfast show on Radio 2 yesterday.

“Turns out we're the first longboarders to ever do the London to Cardiff: the fulfilment far outweighs the pain!”

Anyone who wants to add to the team's tally for Macmillan Cancer Support can donate at

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2,322 people visit Communities Market

Amanda Fearon of the 2012 Taste of the West medal-winning Ramsbury TeaAmanda Fearon of the 2012 Taste of the West medal-winning Ramsbury TeaTwo thousand, three hundred and twenty two. That's officially the number of people who visited Marlborough's popular Communities Market yesterday (Sunday). 

That precise figure comes courtesy of volunteers from Transition Marlborough who, armed with clickers, used scientifically-approved methods to count the footfall of visitors as they browsed stalls. 

For lovers of statists, here are a few more: 

  • 39 – the number of stalls at the biggest market so far. The food section in Marlborough High Street boasted 28 stalls, while the inaugural arts and crafts market inside the Town Hall had 11.

  • 98 – the percentage of stallholders who came from the SN postcode area, in keeping with the organisers' hyper-local ethos. A fair proportion were from Marlborough's SN8 postcode area.

  • 11,000 – that's (roughly) how many miles at least one of the visitors – a New Zealander – was from home. Other visitors came from Japan and Bermuda, and from within the UK there were shoppers from London and Cardiff.

  • 4 – the number of cars left in Marlborough High Street overnight, despite the presence of No Parking signs. The problem led to the marquee being placed some distance away from the Town Hall – the organisers' preference was to have the two abutting.

Dewi Williams of Marlborough Mushrooms, winner of the Local Hero Award in the 2012 Good Housekeeping Food AwardsDewi Williams of Marlborough Mushrooms, winner of the Local Hero Award in the 2012 Good Housekeeping Food Awards“Overall it was a really, really good day,” say Ellie Gill from Marlborough Communities Market. Trade was slightly slower than at previous markets, and we suppose the rain may have put some people off.

“Many traders sold all their stock although, thankfully, not until the end of the day. Our regular stallholders are better able to gauge the event, rather than selling out in the morning, and there was a constant flow of customers all day.”

Organisers are promising even more stalls in October. “We have more interest from traders than we have space to accommodate them,” said Ellie. “New to the market next month will be the The Cotswold Curer, a producer of free range British salami, and Paul's Poultry, an award-winning pie maker.”

The Cotswold Cooks will also be back in October, selling teas, cakes and savouries from their 1950s themed beach hut.

Amy Ball and Scarlett Camm of Shyroom, a new business which sells 'up-cycled' jewellery Amy Ball and Scarlett Camm of Shyroom, a new business which sells 'up-cycled' jewellery As the nights draw in, the market will be operating winter hours. From Sunday, October 7 the hours of trading will be 11am to 3pm. November's market will be held on the 4th, with a special Christmas Lights market on Thursday, November 29 – the night the town's Christmas Lights are switched on – replacing the December 2 event.

A Christmas market will be held on Sunday, December 16. For details log on to

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How the Olympics reinforced the volunteering spirit – one volunteer’s view

Practising what she preaches, Rose Seagrief took two weeks leave from her day job to join the Olympic Gamesmakers, the army of volunteers that helped out during London 2012. Rose is the manager of Wiltshire Community Land Trust, which assists volunteer-run groups in Wiltshire and Swindon to set up community land trusts to own and manage their own assets and facilities.

Now, as the Paralympics approach, she looks back on her Olympic experience.

Rose, who lives in Chippenham, was made a team leader at the Greenwich Park venue.  She was in charge of between five and twelve volunteers, usually different people every day.  “We did whatever needed doing.  We welcomed people at the gates, scanned their tickets, saw them to their seats in the 20,500-seater stadium, managed queues at the food stalls, made sure all the toilets functioned, answered questions about anything and everything, and high-fived happy punters as they headed home.”

Her team members ranged in age from eighteen to well into their seventies: “They were amazing. Whatever they were asked to do, they did it. It made no difference how early it was, how late lunch was, how many stairs had to be climbed, or which portion of the anatomy ached that day, off they went, willingly and with humour. And somehow, at the end of every day, we had always enjoyed ourselves.”

The volunteers in her team were amused by the names given to certain things: “We didn’t have exits we had ‘vomitaries’, which I think we can blame on the Romans. Best of all, the horses that took part in the equestrian events were called ‘Equine Athletes’, while those the modern pentathletes drew lots for were termed ‘Sports Equipment’. How rude! I don’t blame one or two of the latter for throwing their riders.”

Rose and her team enjoyed the spectators too: “Kids and adults alike were wide-eyed and brimming with excitement. Seasoned equestrian experts spurred us on to make sure no-one moved a muscle while the finely-tuned dressage horses went through their paces. But young and old, in the know or otherwise, each and every one erupted with whoops of delight when Team GB made the medal podium.”

She won’t forget in a hurry the ear-splitting roar that went round the stadium when Samantha Murray won the final silver medal of the Games. Or how, as they left, the spectators thanked the Gamesmakers:  “How good that felt!”

Rose Seagrief Rose Seagrief Wiltshire Community Land Trust is an umbrella body that works with volunteer-led community groups in Wiltshire and Swindon who want to take on ownership and management of local assets such as affordable housing, workspaces, land for growing food and for recreation, wildlife reserves, pubs, shops and a range of community facilities and local services. So it is no great surprise that Rose takes a lesson in volunteering from her time among the horses, riders, spectators and fellow volunteers at Greenwich:

“There is no question that we can all be as proud of our volunteering tradition as we can of our sporting prowess, both celebrated so loudly over the past few weeks. That celebration will no doubt continue on to the Paralympics, but when those are done and dusted, quietly and mostly unsung all those Gamesmakers and many more besides will be back in their own communities continuing to give generously of their skills and energy, making life a little better for everyone.”

And if you are interested in the work of the Wiltshire Community Land Trust you can phone her (01380 850916) or email her: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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