CROYDON IN CRISIS: Voluntary groups who are supposed to be hosting summer camps for the borough’s children complain that they have not received their promised grants from the council and Mayor Perry has ignored their pleas for help.
By our education correspondent, GENE BRODIE
Just days before the schools break up for their long summer break, some charities and volunteer-run groups in Croydon are having to cancel activities intended for children, including some with special educational needs or usually in receipt of free school meals, because the council has failed to pass on agreed funding provided by central government.
Other groups who have long provided holiday activity services in the borough report being inexplicably left off the funding stream this year.
Others say that the council’s online registration system for HAF – the Department for Education’s Holiday Activities and Food programme – is over-complicated and has been impossible for many parents to complete. Those with siblings with differing needs, perhaps one child entitled to free school meals, the other not, have not been able complete the council’s online-only system.
One volunteer told Inside Croydon that when they raised the issues, they were gaslighted by council officials. “My stress levels are high,” they said. “I am exhausted, distressed and angry.
“The phone has not stopped, as well as emails and direct messages.”
In another instance, Croydon Cougars basketball club has hosted summer camps for several years, with funding from the DfE, via the council, helping to fund meals for their participants.
Cougars often have as many as 50 youngsters attending their training sessions. “We give up our time as we need to provide these opportunities for the next generation,” they tweeted.
“Society needs to stop demonising black boys and start seeing them for the kids that they are and allow them to grow.”
But for summer 2023, officials at Croydon Council determined not to provide the basketball camp with HAF funding. The coaches at Croydon Cougars only got the news at the start of July, with the summer holidays just three weeks away and the courts at the Monks Hill sports centre booked for the activities.
“Unfortunately we did not get any funding from the council HAF fund, but we still intend to run a five-week summer programme,” they tweeted.
Enterprisingly, they appealed for help from the commercial sector: “Any sponsors please get in touch.”
The council’s applications process, for groups to apply to be included on the HAF programme and receive funding this summer, closed on May 11.
It then took Croydon Council almost two months to advise groups whether they had been successful.
Most of the groups will have needed to book premises in which to stage their summer camps months earlier. Yet some groups that have been granted funding by the council have still been left waiting to receive the promised grants.
Some volunteers have had to pay booking fees or order food for lunches out of their own pockets.
Others, on the eve of the summer holidays, have taken the difficult decision to cancel some excursions and other planned activities simply because the money promised by the council has not been received.
“We have had complaints for weeks, yet find Croydon’s Holiday Activities and Food team unhelpful,” one source, who asked to remain anonymous, told Inside Croydon.
The council claimed that from July 24, there would be 67 activity clubs and groups across the borough offering “a huge range of exciting activities and a healthy meal”.
They said, “These clubs are there to support families in need, while offering young people new opportunities and experiences.”
The council’s less-than-streamlined system depends on parents of children who receive free school meals being provided with a special online link in order to book free places on the summer activity camps.
But as Inside Croydon reported last week, when the council publicised its summer 2023 HAF programme, they failed to include any internet links to the official page with details of where the activity groups are based, what dates they operate or how to book.
“The council team refuses to make the reasonable adjustments for many families who still have not received links or dont know how to find us,” one volunteer told iC.
“We have not been given a link to share with our previous members or those who are making enquiries. This new booking system should been done ages ago.
“I feel exhausted by the way the council come with deadlines and then make excuses or gaslight us.
“This has been the worst ever,” they said. “I don’t want to disappoint the many families that attend each year and depend on us, families from a deprived area of the borough that rely on us. But Croydon’s HAF team has failed our families, and failed autistic and SEND families, too.”
They say that they have emailed the Mayor of Croydon, Jason Perry, appealling for urgent intervention to avoid having to cancel the summer camp, but they have not even received a response, beyond an automated acknowledgement.
“We’re unable to complete our programme for the holidays,” they said. “Parents are confused. If the council has the funds from the government, why are they holding on to it?”
And another volunteer group leader said, “We run this on a voluntary basis, to free up more funds for the activities. But now we are having to pay for the activities ourselves, because of the delays in receiving the money from the council.
“Mayor Perry likes to say he’s ‘listening’. Well, he’s not been listening to us.”
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