Building that will change lives

A TALKING microwave, sinks that can be raised and lowered to the height of the people using them and push button everything, are all built into the latest, state of the art teaching rooms for the whole community in the heart of Huntingdon. Saxongate Commu

A TALKING microwave, sinks that can be raised and lowered to the height of the people using them and push button everything, are all built into the latest, state of the art teaching rooms for the whole community in the heart of Huntingdon.

Saxongate Community Centre in Hartford Road, on the corner of Huntingdon High Street, has adjustable height desks and raising and lowering interactive white boards so that the rooms can be used by lecturers and teachers who are disabled - as well as disabled pupils.

The groundbreaking new community facility opened its doors this week after a £2million fundraising appeal launched by The Hunts Post. The building had been planned for six years. Now, Huntingdonshire Regional College has opened computer classes there for the general public.

The new Saxongate building in Huntingdon will not only provide meeting rooms and facilities for the whole district to use, but will change lives.

People in their 30s and 40s who have lived in residential care homes - where they could not even choose the meals they ate - have found new independence as the first residents at Saxongate.

The complex is a combination of a community learning centre and flats for disabled and able-bodied people on the same site.

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There are three blocks of specially adapted flats, with kitchens and bathrooms with adjustable surfaces, taps and switches at the front of sinks and cookers, wide doorways and where required, spacious, sit down showers.

Huntingdon businesses have supported the £2million appeal as the final instalment for the £7million project. This target is now almost reached (See page 28).

The first eight flats for disabled people in Wood Street have now been occupied for a year, tenants moved into another eight flats on Hartford Road last month and another eight flats will be occupied in Montagu Road in January.

One of the latest people to take residence in her brand new flat in Hartford Road is amateur artist Rebekah Arnold, 34, who lived for 15 years at Papworth, part of the time in the trust's last residential care home, Macfarlane Grieve. She moved to Saxongate on August 15.

She said: "I was concerned about how I would cope living here but I cope really well. I get plenty of support and I can go out and do my bits of shopping.

"When I moved from Papworth it was a bit manic, I had boxes everywhere, but I thought, this is great, now I can do everything on my own. I used to have support with my finances and my money and I was taken out shopping weekly, now it's up to me. After 15 years at Papworth, I wanted to move on and I think I have achieved really well."

Designed by architects CHBC with Professor Marcial Echenique from Cambridge University, some of the flats have two bedrooms so friends can share and one is inhabited by an engaged couple.

Yvonne Pinchen, regional head of the community services department for the Papworth Trust, said disabled people placed unnecessarily in homes commonly became seriously depressed.

She said: "The Papworth Trust will not build any more care homes. I remember one man who had been in one of our homes for 27 years. No one liked him and he didn't like anyone else.

"One day, I said to him, why did you come here? He said he had been told that a place would be found for him. They had found him a place at Papworth - and he was from Lancashire. He was hundreds of miles from everyone he knew. No one ever visited him. We have now moved him back to Lancashire so he can be near his family."

The room space for hire ranges from 11 to 58 square metres and can be arranged as board rooms or with theatre style seating.

The crisply designed building is full of light with full height galleries and glass artwork on the windows reflecting colours on to the white walls.

Each public room is colour coded with shades including red, lime green and bright pink and the upholstered chairs and carpets have colours including mauve, bright blue and pink. The colour schemes and the light make the place a relaxing and encouraging place to be.

The views of the High Street through the whole-wall, sound proof, windows at the front of the building give the impression of watching a silent film.

INFORMATION: Huntingdonshire Regional College is running computer courses at the Saxongate Centre with classes for starters through to advanced and expert. There are "no obligation" advice sessions to help people find the right course. Contact 01480 423050.

Rooms at Saxongate are available for hire from £54 a day or £15 an hour. Contact 01480 357272.

Saxongate will be officially opened by The Duchess of Gloucester on Wednesday, September 27.

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