A mother has set up a petition to open a specialised play centre in Southwark for children with complex needs and disabilities.
Tolu Enifeni says she decided to set up a petition because her seven-year-old autistic son Temi spends his weekends riding buses for hours during the winter as there aren’t any activities for him in Southwark.
The 36-year-old, who lives in Peckham, said most activities and facilities on offer are either for children over the age of eight, or during term time when her son is at school and not evenings, weekends or school holidays.
And she is not alone: other mothers who have children with additional needs such as autism in Southwark have shared similar stories.
They believe having a specialised play centre with facilities tailored to meet the needs of their children would mean they wouldn’t have to explain their child’s behaviour every time they take them somewhere – and that they would also feel less isolated among parents sharing the same experience.
“If we had something like this and it’s all children with special needs, if the children are screaming or rocking it’s normal in that environment,” said Tolu, who also has a four-year-old daughter.
“The facilities should be for children aged three to fifteen because at the moment they don’t have any facilities for children under eight and most of the local offer is for during the term time, they aren’t for over the weekend and the holiday period when we struggle to engage our children.”
Susan Atikiro, 33, whose two sons have autism, added: “My son has problems with sensory issues and can’t go to places with other kids and fit in so we are very limited to the things we can do because of the times and other people not being as understanding of the condition.
“We want an environment where we are comfortable and accepted and don’t have to explain to people each time about our children’s conditions because it’s uncomfortable and so we are not isolated.”
Cllr Barrie Hargrove, Southwark Council’s cabinet member for communities, safety and leisure, said: “Southwark Council wants all children to have access to a variety of activities and we are committed to providing an engaging range of services for children with disabilities and learning difficulties.
“Alongside our respite and Family Link services, which have received significant investment from the council, Southwark Youth Service provides Fast Forward, a project specifically for young people with special educational needs.
“This scheme delivers various activities such as arts and crafts, cooking sessions, life skills, trips and socialise with their peers. Peckham Pulse also offers weekend, instructor-led swim sessions in their hydrotherapy pool for children of all ages.
“Similarly, Peckham Rye Park adventure playground also has dedicated sessions for children from the age of five and older with special education needs.
“We have prioritised these services in the face of years of funding cuts because we know how valuable they are for many local families. I want to thank parents for their valuable feedback and we will look at how we can take this on board as we improve our services in the future.”
The online change.org petition currently has more than 1,500 signatures.