Ely (where the contact centre was established in 2000) is a cathedral city 14 miles northeast of Cambridge. The centre provides supported contact and occupies two rooms of St Etheldreda’s Catholic Church in Egremont Street. This is close to the city centre and about 15 minutes’ walk from the train station. There is ample car parking behind the church. The centre’s management committee also runs the centre in Cambridge, with policies and procedures common to both as a result, and because they have the same co-ordinator.
The centre comprises two rooms provided by St Etheldreda’s Catholic Church. It is recently decorated, clean and well maintained, comprising two adjoining medium size rooms, a small kitchen, and a toilet with disability access (and also a changing area). There is a very pretty lawn and garden outside with a seating area, providing a delightful space for children to play or relax.
Mostly referrals are self-referrals with some coming from Cafcass and social services. Non-resident parents come from a wide area. 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 and this 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 centre has a paid co-ordinator who has been in post 17 years, providing strong practical leadership for their team. They attend almost every session and take overall responsibility for the week by week running of the centre, including liaison with referrers, and parents. At the time of the report the centre had 6 volunteers, many who have been in post for more than 6 years coming from a variety of backgrounds. They 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, where parents and children were obviously very settled and comfortable. A variety of activities was going on from face masks to chasing butterflies in the garden. 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.