With just days to go before the start of the summer holidays, the organiser of an established and council-approved children’s activities centre was told he would not receive any funding. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
The organiser of a kids’ summer club who has staged council-approved events in Thornton Heath for the past four years – including all through the darkest days of covid lockdown – says he’s been left high and dry this year with bills of at least £5,000 to pay for the Mula Cake Kids’ Club.
Under the holiday activities and food programme, Mula Cake Kids’ Club is one of the providers of decent meals and fun activities, giving breakfast and lunch for local youngsters aged from eight to 13, from Monday to Friday through five weeks of the school summer break.
Inside Croydon reported last year how the club was on the brink of disaster when it was left waiting for the agreed £17,457 grant by Croydon Council. Organiser Dexter Simms was forced to pay for the initial sessions out of his own pocket to avoid disappointing the 40-or-so youngsters that were booked in for the daily sessions of activities and healthy lunches provided throughout the school holidays.
But in 2022, in a letter from the council issued just days before the club was due to begin its sessions for dozens of eager youngsters, Croydon Council pulled the rug from under Simms and refused Mula’s grant application completely.
There’s more than a suspicion that Simms and his organisation is somehow being “punished” by council officials for making public complaints about the poor administration and slow payments last year.
The council letter Simms received was full of councilspeak and officialese, but very little empathy or understanding.
It was issued on behalf of David Garland, the “lead integrated commissioner for Children’s Social Care in the council’s children, young people and education directorate”. Snappy title.
In the letter to Mula Cake Kids’ Club, Garland’s minions wrote, “We know this will be disappointing news for you to hear at this stage, especially so late in the day.
“We appreciate the work which you may already have put in place in preparation of the funding announcement, as well as went into your application.”
The council claimed that Simms had not filled in all the sections of its bureaucratic form. No one from Garland’s council department ever bothered to contact Simms to suggest how he might amend or improve the application to fulfil the officials’ paperwork requirements. Until they fired off the last-minute rejection letter.
Elsewhere in his letter, Garland said, “It is recognised that the landscape of HAF has changed dramatically over the past 12 months, with a significant increase in the level of competition for places.
“All applications have been thoroughly read, scored and evaluated as per the criteria laid out during the application process, to lead us to our decision.”
Garland’s letter revealed that Croydon had been allocated nearly £972,279 in funding for summer clubs in 2022, but had received applications totalling £1.6million.
“Our evaluation process has been a robust and honest assessment of all applications, with providers scored on the merit of their returns, alongside the pricing structures laid out as part of your budget returns,” the letter said.
“We have also ensured each area of the borough has significant provision to match the need locally.”
Only last Friday, Croydon Council issued a press release in which they celebrated the good youth work they are doing in the community with various trusted “third sector” partners, including at the Paxton Academy in Thornton Heath run by… Mula Cake Kids’ Club.
The grant was agreed in this instance, even though the location of the project is beyond the area outlined by the council in its normally strict application process.
Simms is understandably angry and frustrated by the council’s mishandling of the club’s application for a second summer running.
He established the Mula Cake Kids’ Club out of the Cherry Orchard Centre on St James’s Road. The community worker reckons that he has now run 31 such clubs over the years, helping more than 5,000 Croydon children.
This year, the club is being run from the Paxton Academy on London Road, and is offering places at the club, from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday, right through until August 26 at £10 per day per child.
“We’ve been doing this since 2014. Our USP is we offer three hot meals a day, and we’ve been doing this way before the media made a fuss about food poverty,” Simms told Inside Croydon.
Simms calls his and the clubs’ children’s treatment at the hands of Croydon Council, with its admitted late notice of rejection as “outrageous”.
“It is causing a major problem, with the real risk that children have to go without food and parents have to go without childcare,” he said.
Simms also questions whether all the clubs active and funded by the council this summer will be operating in the school holidays in October, February and at Christmas, as Mula Cake Club has done for the past four years.
Simms says that he has checked the other, funded clubs throughout the borough.
“Nearly every single club in the Thornton Heath area finishes on or before August 19, so there will be no holiday clubs for the youth for the rest of the summer in that area,” he said.
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