A TEMPORARY base for youngsters with autism is to be created at the Whitemoor Centre in Belper to cope with growing numbers of post-16 students.
The county council has set aside £12,000 to adapt two rooms at the Whitemoor Centre – a base for adults with learning difficulties and disabilities run by Derbyshire County Council – which will be used for the current school year “at least and possibly longer.”
Now talks are underway with a Derby firm to create a brand new school for autistic students on the outskirts of Duffield.
Post-16 students at Holbrook Centre for Autism are currently taught in the caretaker’s bungalow, but a county council report said it “has never provided an environment conducive to learning”. A council spokesperson said: “Most pupils stay at Holbrook for much, if not all, of their compulsory schooling aged five to 16. The school opened in the mid-nineties and a growing number of its pupils are now reaching the 16 to 19 age range.
“There are currently eight students aged 16 years or older at the school; this will rise to 13 in the next academic year and potentially will reach 35 in another three to four years.”
The council is now in talks with the SENAD Group - a Derby-based private company which operates a portfolio of homes and schools for children and young people.
The firm has bought a large rural site, including a commercial garden centre, called the Ecclesbourne Lodge, on the outskirts of Duffield, approximately three miles from the Holbrook Centre.
It says the Ecclesbourne Plant Centre and Tearoom, which opened in April 2011, will offer ‘real’ work opportunities and valuable leisure activities to young people and adults with complex learning difficulties and disabilities. The council is investigating the possibility of building a post-16 centre, maintained by the council and run by staff from the Holbrook Centre, on the site of the Ecclesbourne Lodge. Early discussions have focused on the idea of the SENAD Group financing the construction of a “high quality modular building” and the council either entering a private finance initiative or leasing the building from the SENAD Group.