Disabled Souter Carole Douglas has spoken about her heartbreak at Scottish Borders Council’s decision to close the Ability Centre in Galashiels: the Borders’ only centre for the physically disabled.
“The social work department is condemning me to be isolated in my own home 24/7,” she told The Wee Paper.
Ms Douglas, 53, who has lived all her life in Selkirk, is housebound with mobility and heart problems, and relies on carers visiting her four times a day.
The centre, which is attached to the Focus Community Centre in Livingstone Place, was custom-made in 1993 for Borderers like Carole with significant physical disabilities.
The social work department employs seven staff (two full time and five part- time) to run the support service for about 20 disabled people, 15 who attend the centre and five who are supported in the community.
The aim is to offer social contact to members who would otherwise be socially isolated, and to encourage members to relearn skills they have lost, learn new skills, and make links in the wider community.
Carole said: “The centre is a place where you don’t feel disabled. My life before the centre was non-existent: carers put clothes on me, sat me in a chair, and that was it.”
The centre provides a kitchen and dining room built for wheelchairs, a quiet room for members to talk problems through with their assigned carers, a studio for arts and crafts, and a lounge for blethering, listening to music, and exercises to get their muscles moving.
An unhappy Carole told The Wee Paper: “The carers at the centre helped me to walk with two sticks – before that I could hardly walk.
“I have learnt how to cook on my own, and done a computer and receptionist course.” The centre also organises activities, such as trips to the theatre, or even simply going out for a meal.
“We were planning a party to celebrate the centre’s 20th anniversary in March, but now we don’t know if it’ll be open in March. It’ll be a very sad day for members, and the staff who’ve worked so hard to help us.
“I’m frightened if they close the centre my life will go back to the way it was: sitting in my reclining chair, not going out. All I’ll see is my carer four times a day.”
Carole, who is picked up from her home twice a week by minibus to take her to the Ability Centre, said she can’t afford to pay for transport to the council’s proposed drop-in centre, to be run by charity volunteers.
She told us: “I haven’t got the money for taxis or public transport: I live on just £125 a week. If you need any personal care, like moving and handling, you’ll now have to pay someone to come with you.
“I’ve made a lot of friends through the centre, but they’ll disappear because we won’t be able to see each other. It’s really heartbreaking. I hope people in the Borders see how important it is to keep the centre open.”
This week the centre’s members and carers spoke out against the council’s plans. Bob Anderson, another disabled Selkirk resident, told us: “The social work department has continually denied it would close the centre, and now it has gone back on its word.”
“There is a sense of betrayal,” the centre’s chairman Bill Calder added: “Having been repeatedly reassured for two years that there was no threat to the centre, and having taken part in an options appraisal group that gave the centre a future, members feel senior managers in the social work department have acted in bad faith, and have broken their word by rejecting these options in favour of closure.”
Isobel Ness of Darnick, the centre’s vice-chair, agreed: “This is a money-saving exercise, but they’re not thinking about people’s lives.”
Scottish Borders Council insisted all options were still on the table. A spokesman said: “A number of proposals have been considered to redesign the service at the Ability Centre. However, no decisions have yet been made and a report will be presented at the next meeting of the social work and housing committee early in the new year.
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Weather for Selkirk
Tuesday 18 June 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: South east
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
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Wind direction: West