A COVID-19 community response group has been left homeless for almost a year after it was blocked from using three community centres.

At the start of the pandemic Didcot’s Great Western Park Residents’ Association group was launched to help provide food boxes, deliver prescriptions, and offer phone calls for isolated people.

However, unlike other Covid community groups it was unable to use the community centres in the Great Western Park area and at one point it was left to use a shipping container.

The new Didcot estate is home to three community centres; Northern Neighbourhood Community Centre, and two new empty centres, but when a national lockdown was introduced the council shut all three.

Housebuilder Taylor Wimpey stepped in to help the group by providing them with a shipping container on Boundary Park; however, although it was big enough for all the food and PPE the group needed to store, it did not have any power or running water. 

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In August, the community group had a meeting with South Oxfordshire District Council to try and resolve the problem.

The group was told it could not use the community centres because of health and safety reasons.

When lockdown eased the group was able to use the Northern Neighbourhood Community Centre for three weeks in October, but for that short period of time the group had to pay £100 for insurance.

Now, the community group uses a room in The King Alfred Centre to store some of its equipment.

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Councillor Ian Snowdon is on the committee for the community group and he highlighted that Didcot West is the most deprived area in the whole of the district.

He said: “It wasn’t the responsibility of people like Taylor Wimpy and other community centres in Didcot to find accommodation. It is a brand-new housing estate with three community centres, and we weren’t allowed to use any of them.”

Chair of the community group, Gareth Clarke, said: “The amazing thing about it all is that a lot of the people we are looking after, particularly at the height of it when we were very busy, were referrals from the local authorities, but they are not giving us a place to use as a base.”

He added: “It is very strange I don’t know how morally or ethically it is justifiable.”

A spokesperson from Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire District Councils said: “We have three community centres on Great Western Park. The Northern Neighbourhood Centre has been open and available to groups as Covid-19 restrictions has allowed.

"Last year we took over two additional new centres from Taylor Wimpey and we are working with their contractor in relation to outstanding defect works to enable safe use of these buildings.

"Officers are also working to ensure the buildings are fully compliant with health and safety regulations.

"We are hopeful that these works will be completed shortly, and officers are in discussion with the Residents’ Association to support possible use of the centres during this lockdown period.”

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