Positive Moves, based in a small building in Irlam, has, since 2006, provided all sorts of after school and holiday activities for up to eighty young people with special needs.
The twice weekly sessions are unique and pioneering in Salford, in that local children have been trained to support children with special needs, which has broken down prejudice and built bridges within the community. They help with all sorts of things like healthy eating sessions, sports, crafts and dancing.
Last week, when they found out that Postive Moves had lost its funding for the sessions, they and other local kids immediately created a banner… `Please Help 2 Save Our Local Special Needs Group For Children + Young People'…
The campaign, by the young people and parents is now well underway, with an epetition already online (click here) and more activities planned to try and shame Salford Council into reversing its decision.
The Council has moved away from giving worthy groups like Positive Moves a grant to get on and do their great work, to a formal tendering process which is open to anybody and any organisation to bid for the cash. The `winners' are those who score highest on a tickbox, scoresheet exercise, no matter what the current grant holder has been up to. The `winners' are also those who are best at filling out forms and complying with the procedures…
"For me it's like doing an exam, so all the course work we've been doing delivering the services over the last three years has not been taken into account" says Sylvia McDowell, Positive Moves' project manager "They would argue that is the case for everyone, so the reason might be that I've scored less on the scoresheet might be because they've asked me about `strategic priorities' and I've not had the time to do research into that or I've not understand fully what they're asking.
"It's things like that, not how we have delivered the service or what success we've had" she explains "I feel like we are unfairly discriminated against because we haven't got that back up support and infrastructure."
Five other organisations, with no direct links to Irlam and Cadishead, have been handed the cash - Barnardo's, Stockport Cerebral Palsy Society, Oakwood Youth Group, The Federation of Jewish Services and Core Assets.
Core Assets is a massive group of companies whose businesses and consultancy services stretch to Australia, America, Finland, Japan and even Labrador. It had a £162million turnover and made a gross profit of £51.6million last year (it also has liabilities of £23.8million and assets of £23.8million). It all seems a million miles away from eighty kids with special needs in Irlam and Cadishead.
And while such huge companies are pinching the pockets of local groups, the impact on the young people, the staff and the local community in Irlam and Cadishead will be devastating…
"People who work with us will have less salaries and less sessions to run, so it impacts on them and the local economy" says Sylvia "And the families we work with will feel more and more isolated and will have to travel out of the area to take the young people to sessions. The impact is massive And they are not taking into account all that social value that we bring."
The staff at Positive Moves are almost in tears as they think of the impact on the young people…
"They integrate with all the other peer mentors, making new friends from the area, and do art and crafts, play pool lots of things" says team leader Elaine Annis "I spoke to parents last week as they are devastated; the young people were upset. I've never known them so quiet during the session. They were just in shock…These are young people with autism and aspergers, they just don't understand. They were saying things like `Where are we going to live?'. They have a routine. They just don't understand."
Casey Higginson lives in Irlam and is a youth apprentice at Positive Moves. She's in her second year of training for a possible career, which is surely ticking all of Salford Council's apprentice pushing policies. But that's not taken into account during the `formal procurement process'…
"When this goes I don't know where it will lead" she says "They gave me a really good opportunity but it might be over because of this. I've been doing all sorts of things with the young people and have created a really good bond. It's so disappointing. I'll just have to look for something else."
And Vicki Green is currently on work placement from the Metropolitan University of Manchester… "Since being here I am thinking of working with special needs children and young people, and this has given me so much experience" she says "But this is about the impact on the young people – it's just going to ruin them, I don't even want to think about it…"
Yet again, Salford Council's procedures, cuts, procurement…whatever…is destroying local services for the most vulnerable people in the city. Craig Hall Day Centre for vulnerable adults? Shut. The Grange short term respite centre for disabled young people? In the process of being shut. Springwood Special School? Special needs assistants axed. Mental health drop-in sessions? Moved and scaled back. And lots more to follow.
"I'm arguing about the process of our funding cut, it's the whole procedure and how it favours really big organisations" explains Sylvia "Why shouldn't the Council fund this service locally? These are the most vulnerable young people we've got in this community and it needs to be funded by Salford Council. We will fight for this."
Salford Star asked Salford Council for a comment but, as usual, no response or even acknowledgement of the request.
For more information on Positive Moves and the Campaign see the website - click here
* Last year Broughton Database also accused Salford Council of discriminating against small third sector organsisations - see the Mayor's response and more details in previous Salford Star article - click here
* UPDATE: 27th September
Salford Council has given the group an extra four weeks whilst they look at other options with providers... "We want the service to stay as it is and so do the children and parents, so that is what we will be working towards" says Sylvia.
Photo by Steve Speed