Today the Gazette is launching an appeal to raise £10,000 to help a special needs nursery in Devizes continue its incredible work, that changes the lives of young children and their families.

Devizes Opportunity Centre in Bellevue Road is to lose £10,000 in funding from Wiltshire Council after central government slashed a special grant.

The money could make the difference between three very young children with learning difficulties getting the help they need at the right age or being left without much support.

Centre manager Betty Newman said: “I never want to turn a child away, but we need to make up the deficit caused by this latest funding cut or it could mean that we have to cut hours or places.”

Last year the centre had to raise £40,000 to supplement money it receives from the council and other sources and from April that will rise to £50,000.

Among the children being helped at the nursery is Eliza French, 16 months, from Devizes who has been attending the opportunity centre since September as she has yet to start walking.

Her mum Josie said: “The centre is a fantastic place. I think it is great that the Gazette is organising this appeal. Before Eliza started there I knew it existed but I didn’t realise what a tremendous job it did in supporting not just the child but the whole family.”

The charity helps children from birth to five years old with disabilities, learning difficulties or complex life threatening conditions.

Mrs Newman has been told by Wiltshire Council that instead of receiving the £83,705 it got from the county for providing the service last year it will only receive £73,705 for 2014/15.

This is because central government has withdrawn its Aiming High For Disabled Children grants which have provided £10,000 a year for the nursery.

Even with this grant last year the nursery had to raise £40,000 to cover its running costs but this year it will be at least £50,000.

Mrs Newman, who has worked at the centre in Bellevue Road, Devizes for 21 years, said: “We can use all the help we can possibly get to prevent us from having to reduce the quality of care we give or the number of children we take.

“We understand that this is a central Government cut that has been passed on to us by Wiltshire Council, but we do not want to reduce the level of care we give.

“The demand for this special service we give to children and parents has increased not gone down.

“I never want to have to turn a child away because I understand how difficult it is for parents when they find out there is something wrong with their child.

“We are here to support and nurture not just the children but the parents as well.

“We offer a one-stop shop care package for the children, which saves the parents who are already stressed and upset from having to travel to lots of different hospitals or clinics.”

Many youngsters who have received help from the nursery have been able to go on to mainstream school. Others with greater problems have flourished at special schools or other specialist centres once they reach the age of four or five.

Julia Kerin, 47, of Hazel Close, Marlborough, thought her son Paddy, three, might never walk after being diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder.

But six months ago after intensive therapy at Devizes Opportunity Centre he took his first step – and now he loves to play outside with his two big brothers.

Mrs Kerin said: “At eight or nine months he still wasn’t sitting up and was quite floppy. The person who first told me about Devizes Opportunity Centre was the woman who ran a music class I took him to, so we were not referred in the normal way.

“Right from the start the centre was absolutely fantastic. We were told that he would probably eventually walk but I was worried he might not. So when he took his first steps it was lovely.”

Chairman of trustees Graham Gaiger said: “The work the centre does is amazing and gives young children, with in some cases severe disabilities, the best opportunity possible to fulfill their potential and get the best possible start in life.

“All of the staff go well above and beyond anything they are contracted to do and are so enthusiastic. This is what makes the centre the place it is.

“This further cut in funding has come as a major blow to the centre which already has to cover a deficiency in money with grants and fundraising.

“I would urge anyone who can spare any money, no matter how small, to make a donation or to think about the centre if they are doing a sponsored event.”

He said the trustees and the centre’s committee were very grateful to everyone who already support its work with donations.

Mrs Newman said that parents were also very supportive but often because of the amount of time and energy they had to spend looking after a child with learning difficulties many did not have time for fundraising.

She said: “People can be absolutely certain that any money they raise for us will be used for the good of the children.”

The committee has organised a quiz night from 7.30pm on March 7 at St Joseph’s School, Devizes. It costs £12 for a team of four to enter. Ring (01380) 726077.

  • You can do your bit to help the Gazette’s appeal by organising anything from a cake stall to getting your friends to sponsor you for some weird and wacky trial such as sitting in a bath of beans.

Whatever you decide let us know so we can help promote your event and make sure you raise as much money as possible.

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