A campaign has been launched to save a day centre that supports adults with complex special needs.
Cheshire West and Chester Council proposes closing The Mulberry Centre in Sealand Road where staff from its care provider Vivo Care Choices look after people with a high level of dependency because of their physical and mental disabilities.
The purpose-built centre, with plentiful parking, features secure key-pad access with large rooms, wide corridors and doors suitable for wheelchairs, a multi-sensory room, theatre, laundry and a large outdoor area with gardens.
It has been supported through the fundraising efforts of the Friends of Mulberry charity over many years.
But now the council is consulting on its closure saying the number of users has dwindled from around 100 a few years ago to just 11 now with the potential for services to be provided at other local day centres or for customers to receive direct payments to access other day opportunities ‘built around their individual needs’.
At a stormy meeting at The Mulberry, parents claimed the centre had been deliberately run down – a view shared by staff who have contacted The Chronicle – which makes Blacon ward councillor Reggie Jones (Lab) suspect the council has a secret plan to cash in by selling the site.
Cllr Jones, who has started a campaign to save The Mulberry, asked council managers: “I want confirmation that if the majority of users and their carers say they want to remain here that they will be allowed to remain here and the Mulberry will not be sold off.
“Because that is the real fear of people, that ultimately the consultation is an exercise about selling the land off and those with high dependency, those users with high dependency, will actually be farmed out to various locations in Canal Street or wherever when really they are quite happy with the service and the location.”
He said if usage had reduced then the council should be working with Vivo to “do more things from the centre”.
Furious Karen Shannon, whose 22-year-old daughter Tyler attends the centre because she has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and is partially sighted, said: “My daughter is happy here.
“She comes here every day and she’s really really happy here and I’m happy for her to come here. I know she’s safe and I know they look after her well.”
Ms Shannon, from Blacon, was upset the public consultation over closure encompassed many more people than just those directly affected.
“Our views don’t count. As a parent, we work hard to bring up a disabled child, which is hard work, night and day, 24 hours a day.”
Elaine Richardson, from Christleton, whose 28-year-old daughter Nicola has severe learning difficulties and is registered blind, believes the centre has been closed by stealth.
“Our hands are being forced a little bit. We were approached and it was said if we wanted to move to Canal Street or wherever, there is an option to go. It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
And she questioned whether other centres had got the physical space to look after people with complex needs.
Gilly Harbour from Neston, whose 22-year-old daughter Jenny has severe learning difficulties and epilepsy, loves the Mulberry from where she goes swimming, horse riding and on shopping trips every week.
She said three options for day care had been suggested and the Mulberry wasn’t one of them.
But in her experience, one of the alternatives, the Canal Street centre, was ‘absolutely heaving’ most of the time.
Another parent John, whose 38-year-old daughter attends Mulberry, said it was the ‘only place purpose built’ centre with ‘wide corridors and doors wide enough for wheelchairs’.
He said closing Mulberry ignored demographic trends which showed more premature babies were surviving but often with serious physical and mental disabilities.
Cathy Wells, from Blacon Avenue, Blacon, whose 25-year-old daughter Elaine, with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, attends the centre, said closing Mulberry could be ‘so disruptive’ for their vulnerable loved ones whose routine and friendship circle revolves around the centre.
Stuart Challinor, localities manager for Vivo Care Choices, said: “I worked here 20 years ago when there were 100 people here. The numbers have dwindled.
“Here you have got a main road and it’s very isolated so people aren’t accessing any other facilities.
“I think gone are the days when people used to come into day centres from 9am until 4pm.
“It’s different now, people are accessing community services. I wouldn’t support this if I didn’t feel it was right.”
Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Jamaila Tausif, senior manager, strategic commissioning contracts and quality management, who led the meeting, explained that the consultation was about exploring different options.
She said: “We are proposing to possibly close the Mulberry Centre because the numbers have dwindled, there’s no other community support around here. There’s just the building itself and the rooms where we do have different activities.
“There is another world outside which people should have the opportunity to explore.”
Council spokeswoman Rachel Ashley revealed after the meeting: “We are writing to the parents and carers of the 11 customers of the Mulberry Day Centre to offer them the opportunity of a one-to-one meeting to discuss any concerns they have and how they can help us to shape the future delivery of services.”