A summer scheme for children with disabilities will once again take place this year with Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council officers urged to explore ways to expand the “vital” event in future years.
During a meeting of the leisure and community services committee on Monday, members were told that the council has received a letter of offer from the Southern Health and Social Care Trust to deliver the All Stars Summer Scheme for children with a disability in Gilford Community Centre.
Traditionally the scheme takes places for three weeks and offers fun and challenging sport and physical activity, art and music sessions to approximately 70 children aged 7-17 with a disability and their siblings.
The children are referred to the scheme by the Southern Trust who part-fund the scheme at a cost of £10,000 with the council also spending £10,000.
According to the report, initial plans are in place for a three-week scheme to take place this summer with the full quota of staff in Gilford Community Centre and an activity day at South Lake Leisure Centre.
The Southern Trust will make referrals to the scheme and deliver appropriate training to staff and provide sufficient volunteers, nurses and care workers for those participating with specific needs.
Welcoming the Southern Trust’s letter of offer, Councillor Margaret Tinsley said it was a “wonderful scheme” and told the chamber she was delighted to propose the local authority accepts this offer.
Councillor Julie Flaherty seconded the proposal, telling the chamber she could not describe how much the event means to her and asked how the council could open it up to more participants in the future.
“It is particularly good that these children are doing this with their siblings. It brings everybody together,” said Councillor Flaherty.
“I get quite emotional about this, it really is just something else and I am so glad we are continuing with this.
“There are 70 participants this year again but what can we do to increase capacity, how can we get a wee bit more put into this?
“The staff are excellent and so good with the children but this is a really good example of a really good thing the council does and I would only like to see it grow.”
Sports development manager Gillian Dewart said 70 participants is the maximum the council can cope with given the budget allocated.
“We most certainly would like to increase the numbers involved but that would probably involve an increase in money from council and from the trust and we would probably need to extend the number of weeks it runs for as well,” she said.
“The programme is very tailored to the young people’s needs and depends on the nature of the children, their disabilities and the ratios we are working to.”
Councillor Flaherty said she would like to see the scheme enhanced and asked if the council could look at getting another week provided for. This proposal was seconded by Councillor Tinsley.
Councillor Darryn Causby, explained he was not against the “hugely important and valuable programme” but called on the council to review the situation and see if there was a way it could squeeze the budget further.
“We know the Health Trust give us £10,000 and the Council match that, so there is a £20,000 pot for a three-week summer programme,” he said.
“I don’t mean this to sound how it is going to sound but I don’t think council can deliver as much in terms of money as the community/voluntary sector can.
“That is not a reflection on the efforts of officers at all. The example in my mind is the Christmas quiet time event and how much community/voluntary organisations can do when compared with council.
“I am not against this programme at all. It is hugely important and valuable but I think maybe we should have a conversation around how the budget is allocated and I would really be interested in the figures around that.
“I am asking for this simply to make sure as many young people as possible get the benefit of the programme. It is hugely vital and I am very much in support of it.”
Chairing the meeting in the absence of both the committee’s chair and vice-chair, Councillor Darren McNally said he could tell the chamber was “all in agreement that officers go away and bring something back and see how we can improve the targeting of the budget to get the maximum impact”.