Disabled play activities at Oakleigh School, Whetstone, given temporary reprieve - but parents still fearful of future

This Is Local London: Parents took to Hendon Town Hall with their disabled children this evening Parents took to Hendon Town Hall with their disabled children this evening

A playscheme for disabled children that is a "pearl" in the lives of their parents has been given a stay of execution after its money was cut.

Parents of children at Oakleigh School, in Whetstone, gave impassioned speeches to Barnet Borough Council's children, education, libraries and safeguarding committee last night, urging councillors to reconsider £38,000 worth of cuts.

Chairman Cllr Reuben Thompstone proposed restoring money to the school’s OOPS summer scheme at the start of the meeting at Hendon Town Hall.

His fellow councillors on the committee approved the plans by a unanimous vote, and the scheme has now been protected until March 2015.

More than 15 parents were in attendance with their disabled children, to show first-hand just how much difference the scheme makes to their lives.

However, as parents struggled to control their disabled children from making noise in the public gallery, Cllr Thompstone asked them to quieten down.

Speaking on behalf of the parents, Labour Parliamentary candidate for Finchley and Golders Green Sarah Sackman told the committee: “It’s unfortunate that it's come to this. It's taken concerted effort, hours and hours of concerted time, by families who are in any event strained.

"As a council and as a community we should be there to support them. Unfortunately, that hasn't always been the case.

"We recognise there's not a bottomless put of money. But protecting the vulnerable people in our community is the least we can do."

Mark Holden-Aikhomu’s son, Morgan, four, is autistic and has severe learning difficulties. He said: “When you have children with special needs it's physically draining, emotionally draining.

“To have to take care of someone that you love - and you would die for. Parents and carers go into depression. Your sleep is affected. It’s like going back to having a baby who needs feeding every few hours.

“But OOPS – those ten days – are like a pearl in the life of parents like these. It’s a pearl that gives us the chance to recharge properly.”

Also speaking was grandmother Rose Charles, who detailed Ben, 16, and seven-year-old Sophie's string of disabilities. Neither can swallow, so both are tube-fed. Ben, who needs oxygen equipment, requires palliative care.

As she gave a passionate account of her day to day life, Cllr Thompstone stopped her from speaking as she exceeded the five minute mark.

When he gave councilors the chance to ask questions, Cllr Rebecca Challice asked Ms Charles to continue as cries of "disgusting" echoed from the public gallery.

She was then interrupted by Cllr Thompstone for a second time  - but urged to countinue speaking by the other councillors. She added: “My 'children' are the people in my world I respect the most, they cope with the most enormous struggles without a moment of self pity.

“I love my 'children' more than you can understand and I want to look after them at home, before they die, which is inevitable.

“As a carer, the heartbreak is too difficult to describe.

“Disabilities can’t just be put right with a ramp and a rail. You need to understand the consequences of the decisions you're making.”

The decision to restore the OOPS scheme comes months after Mapledown School, in Claremont Road, Cricklewood, was given a £45,000 temporary reprieve for similar activities.

Labour representative Cllr Agnes Slocombe also proposed a motion about the short-breaks scheme as a whole, which fell victim to £307,000 and a further £100,000 for similar programmes, including OOPS.

She said: “Why is it we always hit the ones with less money and the vulnerable ones? What is the matter with us?" She asked.

Cllr Thompstone said there was no need to discuss the matter further as money has now been temporarily restored, and the matter will be reviewed at the next full council of July 15.

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