Play lifeline ‘will continue’

Jackie Ellis, of Dunmail Avenue in Marton, whose disabled son Christopher uses the STARS scheme.
Jackie Ellis, of Dunmail Avenue in Marton, whose disabled son Christopher uses the STARS scheme.
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PARENTS of disabled children have spoken of their sadness after the “leading light” behind a local play scheme stepped down.

Debra Smith, former development officer of Blackpool’s STARS (Socialisation through Active Recreation) initiative, said doubts over the schemes’ future had forced her to quit.

Earlier this year the Government changed its provision of funding for the STARS play schemes.

Although Blackpool Council continue to finance it, the authority passed the administration on to Blackpool FC Community Trust.

And it has assured parents the scheme will continue in some form – due to be announced in October.

However, Mrs Smith, 56, said the council has not offered her a permanent post and no assurances of future funding have been received.

She added: “It is not a willing decision, I do not want to say goodbye to the families and children I have worked with over the last nine years but I need an income.

“I’ve enjoyed my time with STARS so much and have watched it grow from ten children a day to 37, which is how many we had this year.”

Jackie Ellis, whose autistic son Christopher attends the scheme said: “I understand why Debra has made the decision but it is a sad day for us. We don’t know what we will do without her, she was the leading light for us and will be sadly missed.”

Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said: “Despite Government cuts, we are continuing to fund school holiday play schemes for disabled children. We know this scheme provides a vital lifeline for families during the holiday period and we can assure parents we are striving to ensure the current level of service continues.

“We hope to find a way of giving the parents of disabled children control over these monies, as they are in the best position to decide how they are best spent.”