Cambridge (where the contact centre was established over 30 years ago) is a university city. The centre provides supported contact and is housed in the social rooms of George Pateman Court, a community room managed by the council, at the station end of Tenison Road. A small number of parking spaces are generally available, but if not, parking is available at the railway station which is only 5 minutes’ walk away. There are good bus links to the city centre. The centre’s management committee also runs the centre in Ely, with policies and procedures common to both as a result, and because they have the same co-ordinator.
The centre is a community room provided for the benefit of residents of George Pateman Court. It is clean and well maintained, comprising one large room, a small kitchen and two toilets (including one for those with disabilities and a changing area). There is a small outside play area.
Mostly referrals are self-referrals since legal aid was abolished, though some come from Cafcass, and social services. Referrals are made via a PO Box, and the co-ordinator determines which centre will be allocated depending on the family’s situation and availability of places at each centre.
The co-ordinator and their team are very aware of the risks presented by some families, and there is careful checking on receipt of a referral. No alcohol or drugs are allowed on the premises which is made clear at the first visit. Arrangements are in place so that the families do not meet which is helped by having staggered arrival times, and the facility for parents to phone from the carpark on arrival so that children can be collected, and then the same at departure time. Evaluations are done informally and there were several instances of very positive and grateful cards and letters. Parents are expected to make their own contact arrangements after about 6 months and this expectation is discussed at the outset though of course there are occasions when this isn’t possible, and it takes a bit longer.
The paid co-ordinator has been in post for seventeen years and provides strong practical leadership for the volunteer team. Some volunteers have been in post for more than 6 years and come from a variety of backgrounds. They wear ID badges during the contact sessions. The volunteers on duty demonstrated a sound understanding of the needs of the children in the centre and were very kind and sensitive.
This is a warm welcoming space full of activity with children and parents enjoying time together. The co-ordinator and their team of volunteers are hugely experienced, and it is abundantly clear that children are at the very heart of everything that happens. Parents spoke positively about the centre, and are profuse in their thanks when they leave, trusting the judgement and advice of the co-ordinator. Any recommended actions following the visit are now complete meaning the service meets the standards for supported contact re-accreditation.