NEW children's centre sessions are set to launch in Wantage, Grove and the villages this summer after a £50,000 funding bid was awarded.

Regular free drop-ins for toddlers are now being planned at the Beacon in Wantage and Grove Parish Church under a new freelance service co-ordinator for the area.

Funding for that post as well as toys, rent and other resources, designed to last for three years, was awarded by Oxfordshire County Council last week.

The grassroots group of 28 volunteer mum, dads and local councillors who bid for the funding to co-ordinate new services said they were delighted.

GROW (Grove and Wantage) Families chairwoman Michelle Rozier, a mum-of-one from Wantage, said: "It's absolutely amazing.

"We have finally found out what we are getting and we're very pleased: it means we finally have some stability."

The group got together after the county council announced last year it was cutting funding for 31 of the county's 44 children's centres to save £8m.

The county council then announced groups could bid for their share of a £1m transition fund to keep services running.

Last week the final round of funding was allocated, including to GROW Families.

GROW Families – formerly Wantage and Grove Parents Community Group – wanted to run their own versions of three services which lost their funding in March: a Monday 'bumps and beyond' session at the Beacon in Wantage, a Thursday 'little mark makers and musicians' session at Grove Parish Church, and regular postnatal courses.

The group has already taken on bumps and beyond at the Beacon after winning £10,000 each from Wantage Town Council and Oxfordshire County Council in February.

Now, Mrs Rozier said, it will start planning other sessions with the help of the new co-ordinator.

The 38-year-old said: "We're employing a co-ordinator who will be running the groups and doing various bits of admin to make sure they all happen.

"We wanted to employ someone qualified in childcare to make sure they can identify vulnerable families and refer them to appropriate other services.

"We also just wanted someone who could run the groups in a way which a volunteer like myself simply couldn't."

The steering group are holding interviews next week and hope to announce their appointment in early July.

Mrs Rozier said she and other steering group members hoped to offer 'messy play' sessions for tots and bring in outside groups for one-off workshops.

Parents will always be invited to make a suggested donation but one of the group's main aims is that sessions will be free to those who cannot afford to pay.

Looking to the longer term, the group has already set up a fundraising committee to start exploring ways to keep the centres going after the three years' funding runs out.

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