‘It’s our lifeline’ – Parents fight to save vital kids club threatened with closure
- Credit: MISTLEY KIDS CLUB
More than 700 people have signed a petition to save a children’s club in Mistley which has been a “lifeline” to parents of special needs children for more than 20 years.
Mistley Kids Club, based in Mistley Village Hall, has been issued a notice to quit order from the village hall’s committee.
The club is an after-school and holiday club which more than 400 children use. It has been given a notice period of just three months.
But today the village hall committee said that despite parents’ worries, there was no intention to close the kids club – and it only wants to negotiate a new contract.
The club looks after children of all ages as well as youngsters with disabilities and special educational needs, with many families travelling from Colchester to use its vital services.
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The kids club is fighting to have the notice to quit order lifted, with a petition launched by users of the service.
Councillor Paul Nutter, vice chairman and acting treasurer of the village hall committee, said there was never any intention of forcing Mistley Kids Club to close.
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He said the notice was issued to end an existing contract so that a new one can be issued.
“The order to quit isn’t to order the club to close, it is just a way of ending one contract so a new one can be started,” said Mr Nutter.
“We had a good discussion with the kids club and members of the county council on Tuesday and have offered to withdraw the notice to quit, with the understanding that we will meet in the new year to negotiate a new contract.
“There is no chance of them having to leave the premises. They do a really good job and I hope we can come to some mutual agreement in the new year.”
He added: “We have set aside three months for the review and asked for the kids club to come back with a proposal at the next meeting. Even if we cannot get agreement within the three months we made it clear that the option to hire the hall is still available to them.”
Parents though have been worried by the uncertainty.
Alex Windscheffel’s 10-year-old son has been attending the club in Mistley since his former club closed down in Colchester earlier this year.
The Colchester father said the closure threat is “devastating” and if the club closed it would have both an economic and psychological impact on his family.
“It is the only accessible club in the north of Essex, accept for Braintree, and it is a lifeline for parents of children with disabilities,” he said.
“The club allows us to work and gives us respite from care. It is also my son’s only opportunity for structured play, seeing friends and receiving proper care, which is impossible at mainstream clubs.”
Mr Windscheffel worries that if the club is forced to close it will have an economic impact on his family, as his wife would either be forced to reduce her hours or not work at all.
He added: “It feels like the most vulnerable members in society are always having things taken away from them first. We must continue to fight for them.”
Sam Eastwood’s two children have both been going to the kids club for the last five years. Her son, aged 11 has autism and ADHD and her daughter, eight, is a mainstream child. The club is the only place which will take both of her children.
She said: “My son Max needs one-to-one supervision and no other facility will take both my kids. As a single working parent it is a no-brainer and it is very reassuring to have my daughter there as Max is non-verbal.
“The club has been fantastic and Max is very familiar with everyone who works there. I don’t want to think about it closing, it would break my heart and my children’s.”
The single-mother added: “We are fighting hard to keep our jobs at the moment, so if I have to start taking time off at short notice it could be difficult, even though I am a really lucky to have an understanding employer.”
She said the service is a vital lifeline for her family.
Nicky Moxey, the club’s secretary, said the notice to quit order was “absolutely out of the blue”.
She said: “The kids club provides a service to the most vulnerable people in our society, so frankly this is appalling. It would hurt the community, working parents and their children.”
A spokesman for Mistley Kids Club said: “We want to get this unjust and unwarranted notice to quit removed so that we can get back to the job we love to do, supporting the families and children who rely on us.”
Ms Moxey said that in a meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the village hall committee promised it would withdraw its notice to quit.
This will be ratified in the committee’s next meeting and would allow the club to stop the legal redundancy process that it has been forced to start this week.