Alton Contact Centre has been in operation since 1999 operating from the Methodist church in Alton. The centre is run by trustees from the Mothers’ Union (Diocese of Winchester) alongside the contact centre in Popley. The centre is located near Alton High Street and is easily accessible by car and public transport with links to London and the South/Southwest of England. Alton railway station is the terminus for two railway lines: the Alton Line which runs to Brookwood and on to London Waterloo, and the Mid Hants Watercress Railway which runs to Alresford. Car parking is available next to the centre or there is free parking on side roads or by using the Sainsbury’s carpark for a maximum of 3 hours. The main shopping centre is pedestrianised with a good variety of shops, affordable eateries and coffee shops.
Alton Contact Centre is child friendly and the centre ensures the toys reflect the ethnicity of the families and the diverse community. The centre is on ground level with good access for wheelchair users. Two secure entrances are available – one for resident parents/children/volunteers and one for the visiting parents. Registers are taken as soon as families enter through the centre. A waiting area is available for resident parents although parents mostly go into town shopping or to the local cafes. The centre has a good size contact area with tables and chairs available for families to use. A good selection of equipment is available for all ages, including art and craft materials, a good variety of books, construction toys and board games. The toys and games are regularly reviewed, cleaned and checked for missing pieces or damage. Unisex toilets, disabled toilet and baby changing facilities are just off the contact area and volunteers serve refreshments to families from the kitchen hatch. The centre does not have an outside facility.
The centre has produced guidelines for referrers that explain clearly the referral process ensuring the centre does not receive inappropriate and high risk families to the centre. It states clearly the centre is supported and not supervised. The centre has also produced clear guidelines for all who attend the centre along with an information leaflet which includes questions families may ask prior to attending the centre. The centre uses NACCC’s Safe Referral System (SRS) and all parties are aware of the referral process. Telephone discussions with parents/referrers are carried out after receipt of the SRS referral form and then this is followed up with a letter sent to both parties to attend a pre contact visit. Pre visits are booked for when the centre is in operation. Families are informed that the placement at the centre is time limited and a date will be set during the pre-visit meeting for a formal review. The centre has an excellent selection of leaflets for families that explain the processes and what can be expected when attending a supported contact centre. To reduce hostility and clients meeting, separate entrances are used, and families are given staggered arrival and departure times. Children are taken to see their visiting parent by a volunteer. The assessor was able to speak to a visiting parent who expressed their gratitude for the service the centre provides. The parent had completed a pre visit meeting, was given terms and conditions of the centre, along being given the opportunity to visit the centre prior to contact sessions commencing.
All volunteers and the co-ordinator are very dedicated to their roles and support all who attend the centre. They have in place clear procedures, so it reduces minimum risk for all that attend. At the time of the report the centre had fourteen volunteers – many had been at the centre since its opening and others just over a year. All volunteers wear name badges which makes them identifiable to all who use the centre. On speaking to the volunteers on duty during the reaccreditation, all felt that the co-ordinator and assistant co-ordinator are very supportive and enjoy their role. The assessor was able to speak to the volunteers on duty who expressed their joy in their volunteering work especially when they see families progressing and moving on from the centre.
Alton Contact Centre is well organised, providing a high-quality service in a welcoming and friendly environment. On entering the centre the assessor found it very inviting, bright and a good standard of cleanliness. There is excellent communication between the centres in Alton and Popley. Throughout the reaccreditation process all involved in the centre were professional in their manner. Any recommended actions following the visit are now complete meaning the service meets the standards for supported contact re-accreditation.