Appeal to Government over closure threat to Cumbria abuse centre

The boss of a Cumbrian charity for abused children has issued a personal plea to children’s minister Ed Balls over plans to close an NSPCC centre in Whitehaven.

The Wedgewood Centre provides therapeutic support for hundreds of vulnerable children in west Cumbria affected by physical, emotional or sexual abuse. But now the NSPCC charity is proposing to close it by next March.

Copeland MP Jamie Reed has described the proposed closure of the centre, at Mirehouse, as shocking.

He has called for urgent talks with the NSPCC in the hope of persuading the charity to change its mind.

Mr Reed is also trying to find another provider to run the closure-threatened centre and is contacting local and national providers to determine interest.

Now Abigail Finnegan, chief executive of the Carlisle-based charity Safety Net, has written to the minister warning that closing the Whitehaven Centre could have a devastating effect.

Her letter states: “I am the chief executive officer for Safety Net – a service offering therapeutic support to children, young people and families across the north and west of Cumbria, who have suffered sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence.

“The majority of our work is focussed in the north although a proportion of our workload does come from the west of the county.

“Our budget is around £180,000 for the coming financial year and reflects delivery of services to around 150 individuals.

“I am gravely concerned at the proposed closure of the Wedgewood Centre and the impact this will have, principally on the children and families in the west of this county in need of this vital service, and also the knock-on effect of the closure on services such as ours.

“There has been no consultation regarding the axing of the service or apparent consideration of the impact this will have.

“It has been widely publicised how vital work with victims of these crimes is.

“Children come to us literally broken, as are their families, and careful professional work aims to help heal the trauma experienced and create a new way of living for those whose lives are ripped apart by abuse.

“I am concerned not only at the removal of services from these children, but also the arbitrary axing of positions of highly trained and motivated staff.

“I urge you to consider the devastating impact of the rape and abuse of children and young people and consider how it is that a closure such as this can be justified and ask for your assistance in securing suitable provision for these children in the west of Cumbria. Clearly the most sensible option is to encourage the NSPCC to reconsider its position.”

The letter is the latest evidence of the growing opposition to the planned closure.

Mr Reed added: “There’s too much at stake to simply lie down over this.

“The children who use this service – through necessity, not choice – need the help which the Wedgewood Centre provides.

“The work is now on to find an alternative charitable operator.”

Anne Burns, Cumbria County Council’s cabinet member for children’s social care, said she was dismayed by the closure plan. She said the council was determined to find a way to ensure the service is not lost.

The NSPCC says it has carried out a national review which concluded their direct services should be provided from a smaller number of regional centres.