Excitement as community open house relaunches in Bognor
A popular community open house which has been operating ‘behind the scenes’ is now officially back up and running in Bognor Regis.
Since 2016, Olive Tree Cottage, the home of Arun district councillor Samantha Staniforth, has been a safe haven for special needs children and their parents.
In August 2017, the future of the not-for-profit venture looked uncertain when Samantha’s change of use planning application was rejected. Despite being able to continue operating as before Samantha said it has since been running ‘in the background’.
She said: “We have been helping people behind the scenes for a little while. We haven’t been very public in having our open days and doing big call-outs to families who need help over Christmas and winter time. That area of my life has been missing hugely since we haven’t been doing it.
“I was elected in May and I’ve had to get to grips with that, which has taken up a lot of time.”
Samantha, who lives at home with her husband, Robert, and their four young sons, said she ‘really missed helping people’ and ‘wanted to be at the frontline again’.
She added: “I’ve had people contact me and I’ve signposted them onto other people whereas before I was directly helping them. There’s nothing worse than contacting someone when you need help and being passed to someone else.
“We have [two] special needs children ourselves and we know how isolating that can be. Sometimes it’s quite nice to talk to another mum going through the same thing rather than a professional.
“That’s been my basis. I’ve been there, do life that life and I know what that’s like.
“The reasons I stood for election are because of what I did here. I want to have a bigger voice and help more people by changing policies and making it easier for people to access help.”
The councillor said this Christmas was a ‘really good time to kick back off’.
“This time of year, particularly, is so important,” she said.
“There are so many families struggling to put food on the table, provide clothing, keep their car running, pay the bills and then, on top of that, come up with Christmas presents and extra food.
“I get frustrated in my councillor role that things take quite a long time to happen, whereas I can help people instantly here and make an instant effect.
“We are going to take it slow, we are not going to be open six days a week like before.”
Samantha is now looking to get together a ‘team of people’ because it’s ‘hard to do all of this on my own’.
The long-term plan is to find a ‘bigger house with more opportunity and land’.
She said: “I know there’s lots of people very keen to get involved [so] I’m going to get a small team together and see how we take this project further in the future.
“We’ve been running since April 2016 and I’d love for it still to be going in ten years time in whichever form we decide. It’s really exciting and it feels great to be doing it again.
“It would be amazing if people would like to get involved and help take this group forward.
“We can arrange a date after Christmas to get round a table to decide how we want to help our community and how Olive Tree Cottage can be a huge part of that. I’ve got lots of ideas but not one particular path.
“As a councillor, I’m trying to get all these community groups working together so we’re more effective. We’ve got such a strong community that we can do amazing things.”
If you’re interested in getting involved, visit the Olive Tree Cottage Facebook page.