Learners at a not-for-profit centre providing training and educational support to young people with special needs are asking for help to save their Tavistock Street centre, after its Education Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) funding will be stopped in July.
Bedford Develop is part of the national Develop organisation, set up over 20 years ago to work with 14 – 19-year-olds to support their education and career progression.
The future of the centre now hangs in the balance, as the government’s ESFA funding has been withdrawn from the national Develop organisation, impacting on all of their regional training centres in the East of England.
Bedford’s MP, plus local residents, staff and users of the centre, have urged the government to reconsider pulling the funding, which, they say, provides an essential service to teenagers with special educational needs.
Over 1,000 people have signed Bedford Develop’s petition, asking another local organisation to take them under their wing and seeking the additional funding that they require to keep going.
They have set up a dedicated campaign Facebook page full of compelling testimonies from users of the centre, explaining what Bedford Develop means to them and how it has changed their lives.
Determined to raise awareness of the crisis, some of the young people will be in Bedford town centre this Friday (25 June) at 2 pm, dressed as dinosaurs, urging people to sign the petition to save their centre from extinction.
Centre manager, Darshan Obhi, told the Bedford Independent: “We are in a unique position in Bedford in that we provide a pathway to support vulnerable students.
“These young people have faced barriers in their lives but we are able to nurture and support them to continue in education or into sustainable employment.”
The plight of the centre was put to Vicky Ford MP, the Under-Secretary of State for Education by Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin, in the House of Commons yesterday (Monday).
Commenting on the situation, Mr Yasin told the Bedford Independent: “For nearly a decade, Bedford Develop has provided a vital service for Bedford and Kempston offering training for teenagers with special educational needs and disabilities.
“The Government should be supporting these children and young adults to learn life skills, not pulling the funding.
“I am trying to secure a meeting with the education minister to make the case for restoring the funding as soon as possible.”
In a statement to the Bedford Independent, Bedford Borough Council confirmed it has offered its support to the centre to try and enable the leadership team to fully plan and prepare for how it may remain open without the ESFA funding.
A spokesperson said: “Bedford Borough Council was not involved in the decision by the ESFA to withdraw its funding towards Develop.
“The Local Authority has a good working relationship with the Bedford Training centre and has commissioned education places from this centre for many years resulting in good outcomes for those learners.
“It is regrettable that the ESFA has taken the decision to withdraw the funding. We will continue to work with Develop’s Bedford centre and offer support as appropriate.”
You can sign the Bedford Develop petition here.