Fears over day centres threat

FAMILIES whose relatives use day centres for people with learning difficulties have warned Cambridgeshire County Council to leave them be. Meetings are being held to discuss proposals into the future of seven council-run day care centres. The council has

FAMILIES whose relatives use day centres for people with learning difficulties have warned Cambridgeshire County Council to leave them be.

Meetings are being held to discuss proposals into the future of seven council-run day care centres.

The council has said it cannot confirm if they will close or stay open.

Users of the centres have received a letter saying that, by March 2009, the council will no longer own the day centres or manage the staff.

The letter told them: "Instead of going to the centre, you can have money to go out to do the things you like to do, such as football matches or swimming."

Parents are concerned the changes will have an adverse affect on the users, and it could take them years to adjust.

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The seven centres are Bargroves in St Neots, St Michael's in Huntingdon, and others based in Wisbech, Ely, Cambridge and Sawston. About 40 people use Bargroves and 67 St Michael's.

At yesterday's (Tuesday) meeting at St Michael's, in Ambury Road, Huntingdon, (now renamed Huntingdon Community Centre) Penny Butler, head of disability services at the council, was told the families of the users want their children to continue going there five days a week.

However, she told the meeting that social services was under-funded by the Government and the council could not justify having half-empty buildings.

"We need to do more with the money we have," she said.

Lesley Byatt, from Bury, whose son, James, 27, has been going to St Michael's since he was 19, told the meeting: "He took a long time to settle in. I don't know how he would cope if his life changed."

Other parents were vociferous in saying they want the centre to stay open.

One mother said: "My daughter has been coming here since December 1976. It takes a long time for her to settle in but she loves to live by routine."

Earlier yesterday, a meeting at the Bargroves Centre was told by John Smith, county council project manager for the review, that the council wanted to get a picture of people's feelings and said no decision had yet been made.

"I can't say Bargroves will close. I can't say it will stay open," he said.

Rose Stratton, a support worker for a Mencap residential home in St Neots, which takes its people to Bargroves on Wednesdays, said: "A lot of people here have no idea what is going on. They hear the word 'close' and that is all they understand. Some of them are so frightened. There is no way they could go out alone."

A council spokesman said: "Nothing has been ruled in and nothing has been ruled out. Government legislation requires support to be people-centred and aimed at individuals rather than the old style of having a big sheltered workshop. This is the time for people to have their say and we want as wide a range of opinion as possible."

The council's cabinet will decide on the proposals in September.

INFORMATION: Written responses can be sent to John Smith, A-Wing, Third Floor, Castle Court, Shire Hall, Castle Hill, Cambridge, CB3 OAP.

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