Marking 30 years of supporting families

thisisoxfordshire: Philippa Williams with daughter Evangeline Williams O’Mahony, two, and Anna Thorne with Ella Howard, 20 months Philippa Williams with daughter Evangeline Williams O’Mahony, two, and Anna Thorne with Ella Howard, 20 months

THIRTY years ago, a group of mums decided they needed somewhere for their children to meet – and so launched Donnington Doorstep.

Now Donnington Doorstep Family Centre, off Donnington Bridge Road in Oxford, is preparing to celebrate the landmark with a party on Saturday from 11.30am.

The centre in Townsend Square developed out of the Donnington Playgroup, which started in 1973 and was based in the old Scout hut just off the square.

Manager Anna Thorne, 47, said: “We aim to be a home-from-home for families.

“Some people who come here live in temporary accommodation or don’t have their own gardens and we work with local tenants and residents’ associations.

“We also host contact visits for parents and children when they are not living together. We’ve been a place of refuge at times of crisis to thousands of families across Oxford and beyond.”

In the early 1980s, playgroup parents decided to set up their own family centre and the first Doorstep was a portable building.

It was bought with funds raised by volunteers and parents who also dug the drains and prepared the site – officially opened on June 16, 1984. Originally run by volunteers, as Doorstep became more popular, funding was secured for paid staff.

As the service grew the portable building became too small.

By 1996, trustees and supporters, with the help of the Tudor Trust, city and county councils, raised £250,000 and were able to move into purpose-built premises on the Townsend Square site.

Mrs Thorne added: “In 2008 we expanded, building a new first floor and dedicated youth space for our local young people.

“Our target for income from donations and fundraising events in our 30th year is £30,000.”

It costs about £250,000 a year to keep the centre and core services running (not including the costs of the Donnington Playgroup).

The organisation receives a £60,600 grant from the county council for its children’s centre services; £7,500 from Oxford City council towards youth sessions, and awards from the Tudor Trust and Lloyds TSB Foundation.

But to stay open, 40 per cent of the income needs to be raised from applications to grant making trusts, fundraising events and donations from supporters.

Philippa Williams, a mother of three from north Oxford, is a regular visitor with her two-year-old daughter Evangeline.

Ms Williams said she has visited the centre with Evangeline and her two other daughters Lettie, now 11, and Lili, now 15.

She said: “It is so welcoming – it’s open six days a week, unlike other centres in Oxford, and that fits in really well with the needs of babies, toddlers and families.”

The centre is open Monday to Saturday with a free family drop-in, community cafe, youth sessions and family support services. It also has a large volunteer programme offering training and workplace experience for adults and young people.

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