A CENTRE supporting hundreds of families in the community which was under threat of closure has now found an alternative premises to operate, but it has taken it out of the Popley area.

As previously reported in the Gazette, The Popley Spotlight Centre was facing eviction from the former Chineham Park Primary School building because Hampshire County Council (HCC) wants to use it to house a new school for children with autism.

The council plans to use the building, in Shakespeare Road, Popley, for a special school, and has approved plans to open Austen Academy on the site in April 2021, offering 125 places for four to 16-year-olds on the autistic spectrum, as part of its plan to manage the demand for additional Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) school places.

But the plans forced Popley Spotlight Centre to vacate the building in April - the same month it marked its 10-year anniversary - leaving hundreds of families facing being without the vital support offered by the charity, including a food and clothes bank, one-to-one youth mentoring and after school clubs.

Michaela Riley, founder of Spotlight UK, previously told The Gazette of her fears that the service would become fragmented if the provision had to operate from different areas, and she was worried about moving away from the Popley area, saying: “I think that’s important to cater for Popley because of the deprivation. We look after children from all over Basingstoke but we do have a lot of referrals from the three Popley schools, especially in the after-school club.”

Despite her desperate search to find a venue large enough to house the entire service, it has ended up running from different premises.

The charity has moved its charity shop, food bank, clothes bank and head office to Winchester Street, at the Top of the Town, with the performing arts classes running from the Sycamore Centre, in Winklebury, Atmosphere Trampoline Park, on the Daneshill Industrial Estate, and the United Reformed Church, in London Street.

The after-school club and holiday club have also moved to the Sycamore Centre.

Michaela was upbeat about the changes, saying: “We have had nine years of amazing memories and are grateful to Hampshire County Council for allowing us to be in the building so long and we are now excited about Spotlight’s future and to create new memories and support more families across Basingstoke in the years to come.”

She said the town centre location for the charity shop will enable money raised to fund the foodbank and a one-to-one youth mentoring programme, which will continue to run in most of the local schools in Basingstoke, offering emotional and practical support to children in care and children affected by mental health issues, loss or separation and domestic abuse.

The new school in Popley is set to open in 2021 by Catch 22 Multi Academies Trust, funded by the Department for Education.

Michaela added the charity is looking for volunteers for the charity shop and food bank, and that they still cater for Popley families, as they pick children up from Popley schools to take to its after-school club.

A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council said: “We are pleased that Spotlight has been successful in finding alternative accommodation in the area and that they can maintain the valuable support that they provide families of children with special educational needs and disabilities locally.

“Now that Spotlight has vacated the building on the Chineham Park School site, work can progress to provide a new special school, so that there is also a dedicated specialist education facility serving Basingstoke, for pupils whose needs are more complex and cannot be fully met in a mainstream school.”