It is a unique child-centred charity that has made a massive difference to the lives of thousands of Portsmouth families.
The Roberts Centre in Landport will celebrate 30 years of helping the needy with a service in Portsmouth’s Anglican Cathedral at 3pm on Sunday (February 19). The Rt Rev Christopher Foster, Bishop of Portsmouth, will preach, paying tribute to its vital work.
It was his predecessor as Bishop of Portsmouth who was surprised to receive a bequest of £250,000 from an American citizen, Ernest Cullen Roberts, to help alleviate poverty in the city. That money was spent on creating what is now known as the Roberts Centre.
The bequest was in memory of his mother, Henrietta Jane Roberts, who was born in Portsmouth in 1866 and left for the USA in 1893.
EC Roberts left it to the discretion of the then Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Timothy Bavin, as to how to spend the money. After much consultation, it was decided that the best use for the money was to fund a day centre for homeless families. It was officially opened by Diana, Princess of Wales.
Based in a humble brick building in Crasswell Street, Landport, it now offers a haven for vulnerable families who struggle to escape the cycle of deprivation. Its 62 staff and 60-odd volunteers are currently helping more than 1,000 families. It offers nursery care, temporary accommodation for the homeless, the chance for vulnerable children to have supervised contact with their parents, and much more.
Mother-of-three Angie Clark, 34, from Buckland, is just one of the parents who has much to thank the Roberts Centre for. She was evicted by her private landlord last October with her children Masie, aged 12, Callum, 10, and Reggie, 2.
“My landlord was selling up, and the council didn’t have anywhere for me,” she said. “I slept between my mum’s and friends’ houses. I knew about the Roberts Centre because of the contact sessions. But I didn’t know they run temporary accommodation until then.
“They have been amazing for me. They found me a two-bed, furnished flat, which had everything – a kitchen, a TV with freeview, a fridge. If I had to stay there, it would be fine, but it is just temporary. I’ll be there until the council find me something.
“They also offered me 10 hours of free nursery care for Reggie, which he loves. His speech has come on so much, he loves playing in the garden and he made so much art and craft before Christmas. It makes a big difference to have that time to go to meetings or sort out other things and not to have to worry about childcare.”
The whole ethos of the Roberts Centre is to treat families honestly and with respect, and also to help them to understand the consequences of their actions and decisions – and teach them how to do things differently.
They help families tackle the underlying and often complex issues that surround homelessness, giving them the skills to manage their home, their money and their children. They look at issues such as debt, parenting difficulties, co-parenting, mental health, learning difficulties and low educational attainment.
Among the 14 different projects that they run are a contact centre, where children who don’t live with one of their parents can meet him or her in a safe, supervised environment, surrounded by toys, games and books.
The Roberts Centre has offered this service for 21 years now, because the research suggests that children get on better if they can meet the parent they are separated from. Trained staff and volunteers help to make sure the contact is positive. Last year they provided 168 separate contact sessions for 90 families.
Its nursery provides a safe, stimulating environment for up to 150 under-fives, 51 weeks a year. It includes a secure garden and a multi-purpose sensory room. Committed staff provide engaging and stimulating activities, nutritious snacks, and positive support for parents.
And its various accommodation services help those who need temporary homes, support parents where their children’s anti-social behaviour has put their home at risk, and support young people in care or who are about to leave care to improve their living skills.
These activities involve both paid staff and volunteers, many of whom come from local churches. Many of our churches also fundraise to help the Roberts Centre to do its job, while Canon Bob White, vicar of St Mary’s, Fratton, and the Ven Joanne Grenfell, Archdeacon of Portsdown, serve as trustees. The Church’s involvement will be recognised at the celebration service on February 19.
For more information, see www.robertscentre.org.uk
PHOTO: A photo is attached showing children from the Roberts Centre nursery enjoying a visit from a reptile farm.
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