A short breaks holiday service for disabled children contracted out by Bristol City Council, has moved from a free at the point of access model to a paid membership service.
Families with autistic children who take part in activities through the Bristol Autism Project during school holidays, were informed by email this afternoon that their holiday activities would now cost £39 per year. Those not paying the new charge will be removed from the list.
The Bristol Autism Project is funded by Bristol City Council. It was initially designed to provide short breaks for autistic children and young people, gradually expanding to include those with similar Social & Communication Interaction Needs (SCIN) – and their siblings aged 4-18 years of age. The service is also available for families who live outside the Bristol area or have a child that attends a special school in Bristol or are under Bristol Social Care team.
The short breaks have been specifically designed to help autistic children take part in activities and have fun in an environment of people who understand their needs.
Filton based Foundation for Active Community Engagement (FACE) are funded by the council to provide the Bristol Autism Project.
Today, FACE sent emails to families on the database explaining that from now on, the membership charge would apply immediately. Those who do not wish to pay the membership will be removed from the database and will no longer be able to access the short breaks.
Charity Director Debbie Teml of Face said in the letter:
‘BAP is currently the only project FACE runs which has no charge at all for attendance. It is also the biggest project we run. As a charity, we have to make our funds go as far as we can, but also, we need to cover our organisational costs; we also need to justify to funders the money is being used wisely, and attendance at activities remains high to meet these expenditures.
‘The main reasons we are looking to have a membership fee are threefold:
‘1. To increase the activity budget beyond the limited funds we have with increasing families joining BAP.
‘2. To better manage the rapidly growing membership list and have a consistent method of administration and renewing family information.
‘3. To improve engagement with the service and hopefully reduce ‘no shows’. – Evidence shows elsewhere that free activities are more likely to have ‘no shows’ than paid-for activities as even a nominal amount increases motivation and priority to attend. We do hope this will help!
‘We absolutely do not want to put more pressure on families or make BAP too expensive for families to attend and we do understand that costs everywhere are rising, however, we cannot continue to provide the range of activities we currently do without an increase in budget.
‘As we are all aware, the City Council’s budget continues to be stretched further so we are trying to future-proof the service as much as we can. We continue to outline these concerns to the council and have a great relationship with commissioners, so they are aware of how much the service is valued. Your regular feedback to them also strengthens this.
‘Activity costs go up every year as venues have increasing bills to cover, and our staffing costs also go up each year as we continue to be a Real Living Wage employer and we massively value the impact our staff make – as I’m sure you do too.
‘For example, we currently have £2,500-3,000 to spend per week on activities. 1 BAP cinema session costs £600, 1 climbing session costs £350 and 1 horse care session costs £225. As you can see, just for these 3 popular activities, half the week’s budget has gone. It is increasingly expensive to run the popular and smaller activities which we know families want.
‘We explored and discussed a few options for membership costs – this included payment for each activity, payment for each holiday, a membership fee per child, a membership fee per family, annual or biennial membership, a deposit scheme, and others. We also asked other organisations what they do.
‘We considered your feedback and looked at our administrative capabilities as a small organisation, where we want most of our funds to be spent on direct delivery costs rather than administration.
‘After much discussion, we felt many of these would involve a great deal of administration, and also more stress, pressure, and hassle for families trying to navigate multiple payments.
‘How we want to proceed
‘We have decided the simplest way forward is to have an annual BAP membership fee, which will be aligned with financial years in the future. This means memberships can be renewed every March, which can often be a quieter month for us with no holiday weeks running.
‘To start to see how things will work – and iron out our processes – we will be starting to introduce this fee from 1st October 2023.
‘This first payment will last until 31st March 2024 and then we will begin an annual subscription fee for membership beyond that time. (New members in the future will be worked out pro-rata for the remaining months of the year)
‘The annual membership fee to join BAP will be £39. This equates to just £3 per holiday week which BAP provides.
‘We feel this is a fair fee which should not exclude any families. Many of us would normally spend more than £3 on activities for our family during the holiday weeks.
‘For October 2023 – March 2024 the fee will be £12 to cover the remaining holiday weeks for this financial year.
‘We hope this outlines our rationale and how we intend to proceed.’
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