Leighton Buzzard families of children with special needs plead for charity FUN’s survival amid cash woes

Families United Network
Families United Network

Leighton Buzzard families of children with special needs are pleading for a charity’s survival after it lost vital funding.

Families United Network (FUN) is based on Britannia Trading Estate in Luton and provides a vital resource for families of children with autism and special needs across Bedfordshire.

The charity’s warehouse space is used as a fun play area, allowing children with special needs to participate in normal play activities supported by specially trained staff.

Now, a new landlord has doubled the rent of the charity’s premises and Central Bedfordshire Council will also pull its funding to FUN next year. Without help, the charity is expected to close at the end of the year.

Leighton Buzzard mum Sarah Oliver said: “It is a journey for me but there’s nothing else out there like this. At FUN, they have sessions with animals, magic shows and discos – things which I can’t take my children to usually.

“It’s so hard as a parent of a child with special needs to take them to any mainstream groups.

“I know exactly what will happen if it closes. Before FUN, we never went out, I just sat at home and cried.”

Another mum from Leighton Buzzard, who wished to stay anonymous, said: “It gets us out the house and it’s a chance to be a bit like everyone else. If it closes, I will basically be homebound with the children.”

Families United Network has occupied unit 5 on the Britannia Estate since 2015 and has turned it into a specially adapted activity centre to cater for children with both physical and learning disabilities, and their families.

The charity runs evening and weekend clubs and activities at the centre for disabled children and young adults.

In a letter to members, chair of trustees Jo Stuart said organisers were “devastated” by news that the charity could close by December 21.

FUN centre manager Diane Rhodes told the LBO: “The new landlords have come in and doubled what we were previously paying for the lease of our building, making it financially unsustainable for us to remain on the estate for the future.

“After having raised the funding necessary to refurbish and adapt the building to meet the needs of the children, it is heart-breaking to know that we are going to lose our premises.”

Vicky Hopkinson, also from Leighton Buzzard, added: “I felt a bit ill when I received the email. I couldn’t imagine it happening and it was kind of shocking. My daughter doesn’t speak, but whenever we’re driving and we get close to FUN, she starts shaking with excitement.”

The charity is appealing to its members and the local community for help to secure new income to cover the cost of the increases in rent, or to find more affordable premises within Bedfordshire.

If anyone is able to help, please contact Families United Network on info@familiesunitednetwork.org.

>Do you rely on FUN’s support? Tell us your experience. Email news@lbobserver.co.uk