Children’s charity fights another blow to future

A LOWESTOFT charity that offers safe and enjoyable respite care for children with disabilities and complex additional needs is facing an uncertain future.

The Topcats – teenage opportunities and children's activities – is based at the Morton Road Youth club in Pakefield, providing specially-tailored out of school provision to children and young people between the ages of five and 25.

But the charity is now being threatened with closure after Suffolk County Council approved controversial cost-cutting plans to shut nine Waveney youth clubs or hand them over to voluntary groups.

For Topcats, which helps more than 100 families locally, this is only the latest body blow. In April, part of its core funding was withdrawn and there are fears the charity may even be forced to close in 2012 when its grant support runs out.

On Saturday, Waveney MP Peter Aldous visited Topcats and discussed with staff, young people and parents the devastating impact that closure of the Morton Road Youth Club would have on the charity.

He was told that the charity costed �130,000 a year to run. But having received �75,000 from the Pathfinder scheme to provide an after school club until February 2012, Topcats was expecting an extra �75,000 from Activities Unlimited – a county council project funded through the government's Aiming High for Disabled Children initiative. However, it only received �15,000.

Closure of the charity would mean there would be little or no local support outside school hours for the young people the charity helps.

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'With the Pathfinder money being restricted, the charity now relies on the fund-raising activities of its staff and will be forced to close in March 2012 if it does not secure further funding,' Mr Aldous said. 'They are doing great work in the community and it is important that this continues. I have written to Suffolk County Council and the government and will work closely with Topcats to do what I can to help them find alternative ways of continuing.'

Last week, The Journal reported that Suffolk County Council's cabinet had approved plans to focus the authority's resources on support for specific youth projects, meaning it will stop running its youth clubs.

Instead, voluntary and community groups will be given the opportunity to take over the running of their local clubs.

In the New Year, the county council will begin a public consultation to canvass views on what type of youth club provision is needed in Suffolk, and how communities might be helped to develop it.

Liz Horne, Topcats co-ordinator said: 'Topcats, and a 30 strong team of dedicated, trained and CRB-checked staff, provide our young people with a fun, stimulating enviornment in which they can meet their peers in safe surroundings.

'Due to their additional needs they are often too vulnerable to attend mainstream activities. The youngsters are settled with us... How sad for so many special and wonderful young people and their families to be left with nothing due to lack of funds.

'Please support us, so that we can continue our service.'