Spitalfields crafts centre for needy faces axe

VULNERABLE users of an arts and crafts training project are battling to save their much-loved centre which faces closure following a sudden cut in funding.

Poetry in Wood, based in Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, trains and employs around 50 Tower Hamlets residents with learning difficulties.

But a drastic cut in resources from the government’s Skills Funding Agency has meant that users have had their sessions reduced from three or more a week to just one.

Unless cash is found from an alternative source the centre could be closed completely by Christmas.

Westley Abbott, 33, who has learning difficulties and epilepsy, entered the woodwork training course 10 years ago and now gets paid for his efforts.

But he has been told, along with other users, that his three sessions a week have been cut to just one.

Mr Abbott, of Cephas Street, Bethnal Green, is now campaigning to secure funding to keep the centre open.

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His mother, Carol Abbott, 58, said: “He’s really upset. The work is therapy for him. He loves achieving and making things.

“He’s extremely worried and keeps saying, ‘What am I going to do now?’

“I dread to think what he’d do if it stopped completely. His life would be so much worse.”

Since starting in 1991, the programme has been funded through a franchise programme with Tower Hamlets College.

But cuts imposed on the college have resulted in Poetry in Wood’s �75,000-a-year funding being completely withdrawn.

Some 32 trainees now may not be able to gain the qualification Mr Abbott trained for, which takes three years to complete.

Kay Jordan MBE, director of the Spitalfields Small Business Association community trust which runs the programme, said: “If any project deserves support, this one does.

“It gives people who need support dignity of work. Closing it will deny others a great opportunity.”

Jessica Thomas, Poetry in Wood’s creative director, said: “We had tears when we told them.

“It’s not like they can go out and get new jobs. There really isn’t much choice for people like them in Tower Hamlets.”

The centre urgently needs to raise �37,440 to reinstate a new intake class and restore the working programme to four days a week for two more academic terms.

Five members of staff and a manager would also lose their jobs if the centre closed.

A Skills Funding Agency spokesperson said: “As independent organisations, training organisations and colleges have the freedom and responsibility to determine the level and mix of their provision for adults within available funding.”

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