Letters: For my son, the closure of Bedford Develop was unexpected and brutal

Students campaigned to get the funding decision reversed, even dressing up as dinosaurs to raise awareness in Bedford town centre

Dear Editor,

I am writing to you regarding the sudden and shocking closure of the Bedford Develop Centre last week, despite a valiant campaign to save it.

My son, who is a learner at the centre, has autism so for him change and uncertainty are especially difficult to handle.

He was already feeling anxious and distressed about the possibility of the centre’s closure after funding was withdrawn, but for it to happen so unexpectedly, with one day’s notice, is brutal.

The centre had been his happy space for a few years now, a place in which he has made significant progress. He loves the learners, tutors and ringing the buzzer! He looked forward to the days each week when he attended.

Life has been especially tough for him for the last couple of years, with illness and then covid leading to enforced isolation and loneliness.

He was so thrilled to be able to attend again, and even though the fear of the centre’s closure cast a shadow, he was especially excited about taking part in the fortnight’s NCS programme, with which the centre is ending the academic year.

It seems particularly cruel and pointless to force this closure so abruptly with only a couple of weeks to go before the end of term.

I have the utmost respect for the staff at the centre who have done a superb job supporting and educating my son as well as all the other learners. Indeed, some of the staff are now generously volunteering their help to enable the NCS programme to continue, despite having lost their jobs and income with little warning and, I believe, not yet having received salary they are owed.

It demonstrates their level of commitment, for which they have received little thanks.

But I have seen the difference they can make. The campaign slogan “Small Centre Big Heart” absolutely sums it up.

The Bedford Develop Centre has done an invaluable job offering something unique and important. The local college provision doesn’t suit all youngsters. Some need a more flexible or individual type of support in a smaller setting, and this is what the centre was providing so effectively.

If this option had not been there for my son a few years ago I’m not sure what we would have done, since the Foundation Programme at the College was not appropriate for him.

So how will these young people be catered for now? The need in the community will be even greater after this current covid crisis is over, which is why it is so particularly heart-rending to think about what the consequences of this closure might mean. The staff and most of all the learners don’t deserve it.

Name and address withheld

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