PARENTS left struggling for support following the closure of Witney's Children Centre will be given an alternative, a mother-of-two has vowed.
Helen Hambidge quit her job at the centre fourteen months ago when she realised it would close down but the childcare professional has now pledged to offer her own service to fill the gap left among Witney parents.
The former children's centre employee ran a taster session last week and after more than 20 families turned up. She has decided to run the support group, named First Steps, fortnightly from the beginning of May.
She first used the now-closed centre when her 16-year-old daughter Sarah was just a few months old.
She said: "The services were an absolute lifeline to me with my children and I wanted to give something back, so I started volunteering and was eventually employed by the children's centre.
"I know they have been a lifeline to so many other families as well over the years and I don't want others not to have that support that can be so vital."
Oxfordshire County Council fully withdrew funding from 31 of 44 centres across the county at the start of last month.
Action for Children's contract to run the town's centre finished at the end of March, putting an end to a number of popular support sessions aimed at parents in need.
Ms Hambidge's classes will be part-funded by Little Treasures Academy, where she now works, and donations - £1 per session - from families taking part.
The 37-year-old said that volunteer-led toddler groups across the town had seen huge increases since Witney Children's Centre closed its doors last month.
She said: "I have done a lot of consultation with toddler groups and they have said the increase since the closure has been horrendous.
"They are offering a good service but they are volunteers and we wanted to provide professional help and support."
Aside from the fortnightly project, another group – involving representatives from the town’s churches, council and youth charity Base 33 - has applied for the county council's transition funding to continue running services.
Christine Harris, 63, of Abingdon, regularly goes to Witney to look after her two grandchildren, Amelia and Finley Stone, five and seventeen months. She said it was really good to see people in the community like Ms Hambidge ensuring such services for children are still available.
She added: "I think groups like this are really important. It gets the children to interact with each other and have more confidence, which is really good.
"Even from a young age, that interaction with other children is very important."
Oxfordshire County Council says it has put in schemes to provide support following the closure.
SPokesman Own Morton said: “As part of the council’s continuing investment in early intervention, new teams of locality workers will work in communities to advise and support professionals such as teachers in schools, health workers and staff in early years settings, to increase their expertise and confidence in providing early help for children.
"They will also work with voluntary and community services.”