EXCLUSIVE by SANJANA IDNANI
A community volunteer in West Croydon has been left thousands of pounds out of pocket because of delays by the council in handing over a promised government grant towards the costs of running a children’s summer activities club.
Dexter Simms is the founder of the Mula Cake Kids Club, which operates out of the Cherry Orchard Centre on St James’s Road.
Simms applied to the council under the holiday activities and food programme for his club to be one of the providers of decent meals and fun activities, from Monday to Friday through the next five weeks. The council accepted the application.
But with the school summer holidays having just begun, come last Sunday night, expecting to provide breakfast and lunch for local youngsters, aged from eight to 13, starting from the following morning, and Simms had not received a penny of the £17,457 agreed by the council.
“It’s such a shame that Mula Cake Kids Club are expecting 40 children at 9am tomorrow and we haven’t still received promised funds,” Simms wrote in a plaintive Twitter plea.
“If the club doors are locked, we can’t do anything. If there’s no food, we can’t do anything. This is horrible.”
Simms says that to cover the shortfall because of the council’s delayed response to his grant application, he has taken a £5,000 loan out of his own business, and early on Monday morning he was out buying provisions to ensure that there would be no local children going hungry because of administrative problems at their council.
The holiday activities and food programme has been set up, at least in part, in response to the campaigning work of England footballer Marcus Rashford. The government grant funding allows local authorities, like Croydon, to coordinate free holiday provisions for children who are eligible for free school meals.
As well as providing breakfasts and lunches, the Mula Cake Kids Club provides a range of activities, including sport, baking and gardening, all free of charge. It has been operating for the past seven years.
When he applied for this summer’s holiday activities and food funding, Simms was told that the council would only fund the club for four weeks, four days a week, and for four hours at a time. Simms’s application was then made for two clubs, each running for four hours, to gain funding to cover the eight-hour day.
Simms also agreed to himself provide funding for the fifth day of each week and the fifth week of the programme.
The council had been in written contact with Simms on July 9,
But it was on Monday, July 19 – just seven days before the Mula Cake Kids Club was expecting to open for its first day of the summer holidays – that the council contacted Simms to say that they had lost the emails and documents necessary for his funding.
“Please accept my sincere apologies for you having to send these again,” one council official wrote. “I know you have sent them previously and this must be incredibly frustrating for you when you’re waiting to set up…
“I am sorry again for the added stress this process has caused you and your team.”
Simms duly spent that Monday resending all the documents. Simms sent the council the bank details that same day. And he waited. And waited…
“I had to pay the deposit for the venue upfront, I had food, equipment and first aid to buy,” Simms told Inside Croydon. “The venue was saying to me that I might not be able to open on Monday if I didn’t give them the money but, upsettingly, no funding had come through.
“I asked the council, ‘When are we going to get paid?’ They said that they received my bank details only after the first payment went out. ‘We will update you with when we will make the payment’, the council told me.”
Even by this morning, eight days since the council admitted it had lost his paperwork, there had been no update on when Simms can expect to receive the agreed grant.
“I’m doing the best that I can this week, but it is just atrocious that an established kids’ club has to jump through so many hoops just to provide their essential holiday services.”
Today, almost 48 hours after Simms had made his public plea on social media, Alisa Flemming got round to responding to his plight, though not immediately with a phone call but with what appeared to be a bit of blame-shifting on social media.
Flemming is the council cabinet member for children and education. She tweeted that “the team had to contact you for additional info”.
Simms was enraged by this approach. “The team asked me to resend info a week or so after letting me know that they weren’t receiving emails… Now I’ve been told it was coz my details were sent late. Outrageous.”
He added later, “The fact they want to blame the providers rather than support [them] is horrible…
“As a black independent man trying to do what’s best for his community it’s heartbreaking the fight I get I swear.”
Inside Croydon understands that Simms later had a phone conversation with Councillor Flemming.
“Hopefully we will get to the bottom of this and make an easier avenue for other providers to be funded in the future,” Simms said.
Read more: Shamed into action, council offers new grants for business
Read more: Ofsted finds Croydon children in ‘neglectful circumstances’
Read more: Free money! But Croydon Council can’t even give it away
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