Recorder letters: First Step, blood test waits and Grenfell voting

PUBLISHED: 16:21 11 September 2020 | UPDATED: 16:21 11 September 2020

Mark Halls, chief executive of children's charity First Step

Mark Halls, chief executive of children's charity First Step


Letters sent in from Recorder readers this week.

First Step is still open for family support and information

Gill Hare MBE, patron and co-founder, First Step, writes:

The Romford Recorder has always been of huge support to First Step over the past 32 years and we thank you once again for raising the current issues of First Step’s ongoing financial difficulties.

However, I am aware that some people may now be alarmed by current media reports that suggest that First Step may imminently close.

I want to reassure you all that FS continues to be OPEN for family support and information, working within current government guidelines.

However at this time the organisation is having to discontinue its Ofsted registered educational services, which are the pre-school and PACC sessions (for children with social and communication difficulties).

This is greatly regretted and is as a direct result of cessation of funding from LBHavering in 2017.

Other complementary services, such as counselling, music therapy and Sib Club had previously been halted in 2016 partly due to reduced CCG funding when some restructuring occurred.

Discussions are ongoing with the council in an attempt to enable FS to continue with the development of a social enterprise which is expected to provide finance for FS services long into the future.

From its inception in 1988, Havering community have been of huge support throughout the years of First Step’s development from very small beginnings with six families, through to a dedicated building refurbishment (made possible by a huge £1.1million community fundraising effort), and a wide range of complementary services.

Hundreds of Havering families have felt huge benefits from the early support given by First Step over the past 32 years, as can be evidenced by many parents of older children with special educational needs.

First Step is often seen as the road back to confidence after hearing that a baby or young child has a significant problem with normal development.

Babies are encouraged to develop skills that may otherwise be damaged or delayed as a result of physical or congenital damage.

Life-long friendships between such families give great support to so many, and this helps to overcome the feeling of isolation that often follows these life changing events.

First Step’s financial grants from LB Havering were removed in 2017, before the Covid-19 pandemic was even heard about and the charity was already looking towards alternative funding opportunities.

In common with most charities the lockdown had a hugely detrimental effect on fundraising events and Covid-19 has surely compounded this devastating situation and is further isolating vulnerable young children at this crucial time. We thank all friends and community clubs and businesses for their much needed continued valuable support during these anxious times.

Council should reconsider funding of First Step

Cllr Linda Hawthorn, president, and Cllr Chris Wilkins, chairman, Upminster and Cranham Residents Association, write:

We were very saddened to read about the reduction in services at First Step, the nursery aimed for children with disabilities.

It must be devastating to be born with a disability, and it is essential that these children are given the best possible start to life, to enable them to reach their full potential.

Our association has made a number of donations to the charity, who’s aims are vital for the children of Havering.

We ask that the council reconsiders it’s decision to cut the funding to First Step, and supports it in it’s work for our lesser abled children.

How you can help wonderful charity

Councillors Stephanie Nunn and Barry Mugglestone, Elm Park ward, write:

We cannot speak highly enough of the work that First Step does with children who have special needs or are disabled, and their families.

In particular we would like to mention the work done during the lockdown when families have received tremendous support through a variety of means, in excess of 2,700 interactions by phone, email, WhatsApp and zoom.

Ofsted have rated First Step outstanding for the last six years.

However, this unique service provided by First Step for the families who often turn to them as they have nowhere else to go has been compromised due to lack of funding.

The original service of family support can still continue, but at the moment the nursery cannot open.

Havering chose to remove £120,000 per year back in March 2017 and it was that income that largely funded First Step’s pre-school educational services. A very lean time followed and a plan was drawn up to open a mainstream full day care nursery in part of their building to help bridge the funding gap.

Due to the nine months delay by Havering in changing the terms of the building’s lease and then the onset of Covid-19, the situation went from bad to worse.

No grant at all from Havering, no fundraising, no opportunity to get started on the commercial nursery.

A meeting with the leader of the council, the cabinet member for children’s services and others produced nothing, not even a response until the Romford Recorder asked for one. Hang your heads in shame.

Many people want to help First Step and if you are one of them please watch and pass on to family and friends the ‘Breakfast Mums’’ video on First Step’s website and then you will truly understand the importance of this wonderful organisation and its appeal for help:

Wait for blood tests is unacceptable

Linda Hoad, Wood View Mews, Romford, writes:

Now that the Victoria Centre has been closed for maintenance work, people are having to travel to Queen’s Hospital or Harold Wood.

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Can’t the NHS put a portable unit in the grounds there or rent a few rooms from someone in that vicinity as the wait for blood tests is unacceptable? We do not need a state-of-the-art unit or building, as was evidenced from the Victoria Centre – just somewhere local and preferably open all day.

MP must explain his voting record

Peter Wheelband, Romford Labour Party, writes:

On Monday, September 7, Romford’s MP Andrew Rosindell, together with his Conservative Party colleagues, voted down an amendment to implement the recommendations of Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower inquiry. In doing so he and his party reneged on their commitment in their 2019 manifesto to implement and legislate the findings of the report.

It seems the safety and well-being of those living in unsafe accommodation has been ignored.

It joins a long list of worrying votes from our representative in Westminster.

A decade of voting for cuts to police budgets, voting against nursing bursaries, voting against same sex marriage, voting against a ban on hunting , voting against protecting the NHS in a trade deal , voting against a pay rise for nurses etc etc.

I for one would like an explanation as to why he has voted this way.

Just three Covid deaths in last 10 weeks

Cllr David Durant, Rainham and Wennington Independent Residents Group, writes:

Presumably they mean well, but the council’s latest coronavirus ‘billboard-van’ information campaign to prevent a localised lockdown just perpetuates the fear.

Instead of promoting alarmism the council should be reassuring the public that the virus is no longer a serious health risk. This is needed to restore the NHS and economy which pays for public services and to refocus on far more damaging public health issues, particularly as an official government report says 200,000 may die due to millions of cancelled operations and appointments - and there is now a three month wait for an elementary blood test.

This view is based on official council figures. For example, over the last 10 weeks there have only been three Covid-19 related deaths in Havering and daily “cases” have risen to a mere two per 100,000 people. In practice it means otherwise healthy people are testing positive for an infection, that isn’t causing them any harm.

Reverse decision to scrap Zip card

Caroline Russell, Green Party London Assembly member, writes:

Schools are now going back but nobody can yet tell under-18s in London what is happening to their travel – how much they might need to pay, for what journeys, and whether any school travel might remain free.

This is a mess, and it’s a mess the government has made.

The mayor has said that the TfL bail out condition, removing Zip cards, was attached at the last minute.

Young people’s travel has been used as a political football, and this is outrageous at a time when their futures are on the line.

Free travel for young people is about much more than getting to school, it can also support access to work, seeing friends and family, and to use our museums and galleries to catch up on the education that has been so hard-hit during lockdown.

The government should give more money to fill the gaps in the walking and cycling budget rather than cutting access to public transport which may be more likely to get young people into their parents’ cars than onto their bikes.

Grant Shapps should not try to steal free travel from young Londoners, just when they need it most.

Wear pink to help fight breast cancer

Addie Mitchell, clinical nurse specialist, Breast Cancer Now, writes:

I am writing to ask your readers to join us on October 23 and take part in the UK’s biggest and boldest pink fundraiser, wear it pink.

The coronavirus outbreak has been an unprecedented situation for us all.

Speaking to people affected by breast cancer, I know it continues to be an extremely difficult and uncertain time for so many affected by the disease.

While the NHS has taken extensive steps to minimise the impact on cancer services, many people have seen their treatment paused or delayed either to help reduce their risk of contracting Covid-19 or as the NHS has tried to cope with the demands during the outbreak.

I’ve spoken to people with incurable secondary breast cancer, who had anxious months without treatments that had been helping to keep their disease stable.

During this time, Breast Cancer Now’s support services are even more important.

The coronavirus pandemic is also having a significant impact on our ability to fundraise, and therefore our ability to fund research and provide support at a time when people have never needed it more.

Breast Cancer Now’s wear it pink day helps us continue to make world-class breast cancer research and life-changing care happen through the vital funds that are raised by people across Essex each year. Without this fundraising, we simply cannot continue to be here for people affected by breast cancer, now and in the future.

So, if there was ever a time to find that pink top, grab that pink tie or dig out that pink tutu, that time is now.

Fundraisers can register to claim a free fundraising pack at

Whether your wear it pink day is held online, an event with your household or a socially-distanced event, we hope you can join us in helping to fund life-saving breast cancer research and life-changing care for those affected by breast cancer.

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