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Sad day as charity closes

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Leaders of a play scheme began packing up their premises for the final time this week.

Despite a three-year search, Mid Suffolk HOPS – which stands for Holiday Opportunity Play Scheme – has been unable to find an alternative to its meeting place at the former Kerrison school at Thorndon.

Warnings were given last year that the charity faced closure unless new premises were found and the trustees were finally forced to bring an end to a scheme which has helped hundreds of children with disabilities or special educational needs and provided a respite for their carers since it was founded 40 years ago.

HOPS playscheme packing up and clearing up premises in Thorndon
HOPS playscheme packing up and clearing up premises in Thorndon

It has been an especially sad week for service manager Jackie Markell, who was first associated with the scheme as a 14-year-old volunteer. “I decided then it wasn’t for me and then I had a child who was autistic and got involved again,” she said.

Mrs Markell helped the club get over a previous threat of closure and expand. It had been based in former living quarters at the Kerrison school for 20 years but the play scheme’s landlords needed the premises for housing, she said.

Because the scheme needed to accommodate wheelchairs and also required safe indoor and outdoor play space for children of four to 16 years old as well as storage and changing facilities, village halls were not suitable and the search for anywhere else has been unsuccessful.

“It will be such a loss, not just to the children and parents who appreciated it very much but to all the teenage volunteers we have as well,” said Mrs Markell.

The play scheme had 53 children from South Norfolk, Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds who were brought in by bus at the time of its closure.

It employed 12 play leaders and this year 79 teenagers were helping at the three-times-a-week meetings.

Mrs Markell said many of the young helpers were assisting at other play schemes and it was some consolation the HOPS equipment was going to other specialist schools.

“It is such a shame because it had been supported by Norfolk and Suffolk authorities and provided a service for the children.”

As well as a holiday scheme, HOPS also ran Saturday clubs and won a Stars of Suffolk award for team of the year in 2018.

Mrs Markell, who has spent the last 19 years with HOPS, said that she hopes to continue working to support children with special needs and those who are disabled.

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