Clients voice anger and disbelief over impending closure of Hastings day centre

Valerie Fraser, left, and her sister Eileen Salmon SUS-191202-132426001
Valerie Fraser, left, and her sister Eileen Salmon SUS-191202-132426001

Carers, families and clients at the Isabel Blackman Centre have expressed their anger and upset over its impending closure.

Despite campaigns and several petitions calling for it to remain open, the day centre is to close on March 31.

Paul Foord and his mother Terry Foord SUS-191202-132415001

Paul Foord and his mother Terry Foord SUS-191202-132415001

Valerie Fraser set up a petition last summer, which attracted more than 5,000 signatures.

Her sister, Eileen Salmon, suffered a stroke two years ago and could not even write her name nor speak.

Valerie said the help Eileen has had from the centre has helped her enormously in her road to recovery, meaning she is speaking again and has learned to draw.

Valerie said: “I went into every pub, restaurant and street in the Old Town with the petition, spending five days gathering signatures.

I usually come to the centre twice a week and it’s disgusting that the centre is going to close. The county council has made the wrong decision. It will have consequences and put more strain on the NHS, on doctors, home help, carers and will make more people lonely. The whole consultation was a farce as they had made their mind up. It’s the lack of meaningful consultation that has been the worst thing. I don’t think the closure will save any money at all in the long term

John Aitchison

“I met six people from New Zealand and seven from Australia who all signed the petition in support.

“The public are disgusted over what is happening. I’m absolutely disgusted the centre is closing.

“One woman was crying, worried sick over where she is going to end up when she leaves.”

Centre members, carers and families have also signed a letter, containing 98 signatures, requesting the county council to keep the Isabel Blackman ‘day services’ open.

Cllrs James Bacon, Dany Louise, Peter Chowney and Trevor Webb SUS-181121-095256001

Cllrs James Bacon, Dany Louise, Peter Chowney and Trevor Webb SUS-181121-095256001

They said some of the day centres being offered as alternatives do not even accept people in wheelchairs, do not provide meals, personal care, assist in medication or even provide transport.

The Isabel Blackman Centre offers personal care and support for people over 50 with varying needs, including dementia, strokes, learning difficulties, physical disabilities and mental health support.

The service is provided to the county council by the Sussex Community Development Association (SCDA).

It also provides personal care including assistance with going to the toilet, help at meal times and so on, administration of medication, a daily freshly-cooked meal and activities designed to stimulate cognitive awareness.

Anne Linfoot said: “I use the centre every week and am upset over its closure. I’ve been using it for nearly two years and like all of the activities they run here, as well as mixing and chatting with people. I’ve made a lot of friends here.”

Mary Larkin, 92, started going to the centre four years ago after her husband of 63 years died.

She said: “Everyone is friendly here and all of the staff are brilliant. It’s also the only place for those with reduced mobility to come to, as they pick you up by bus then take you home.

“I come here four times a week for the company, rather than sitting indoors at home on my own all day.”

Brian Foord and his wife Terry fear they will not be able to manage looking after their 50-year-old disabled son Paul if they cannot get respite care for themselves when the centre shuts as Paul, who suffers from neurodegenerative brain iron accumulation, goes to the centre during the week.

Terry said: “Social workers are trying hard to find day care for clients at the centre but with little success.

“The Isabel Blackman Centre only costs money when it is open at weekends. So if it was allowed to run five days a week with it being used by others in Hastings at the weekend it would be viable.

“There are going to be at least 60 vulnerable people who are going to be hurt badly by the closure of the centre.

“Paul’s condition is similar to Parkinson’s disease but worse. He uses a wheelchair, has difficulty speaking and eating and can do very little for himself.

“He is highly intelligent which makes his problems very frustrating.

“My husband is nearly 76 and I am 71 and we’ve been advised many times to put Paul in a home and forget about him.

“This we cannot do but we are finding his care harder and harder. We have had good support from social services and this has helped us to manage.

“Paul used to attend ARRCC in Rye but this closed down last year and he moved to the Isabel Blackman Centre.

“The centre is now closing and so far there is no suitable replacement for Paul and many of the other clients.

“If we do not get respite care we will not manage and Paul will end up in full-time care at a great cost to the council.

“We will not give up supporting our son. The Isabel Blackman Centre has done wonders for us as Paul is very happy going there. The cutbacks are devastating and at the moment I can only see them costing money, not saving it.”

Linda Moyes, 56, who suffers from a rare disorder called intra-abdominal lipomatosis, said the centre was the only place where she felt comfortable.

She said: “It’s a safe haven here. People are so nice and there is a lovely atmosphere. If this centre wasn’t here I wouldn’t know what to do.”

John Aitchison, 80, who suffered a stroke more than four years ago, said: “I started coming to the centre for two reasons, to get out of the 
house and have social contact, and to give my wife, who is my carer, respite.

“I am paralysed on my right side and have difficulty walking.

“I usually come to the centre twice a week and it’s disgusting that the centre is going to close. The county council has made the wrong decision.

“It will have consequences and put more strain on the NHS, on doctors, home help, carers and will make more people lonely.

“The whole consultation was a farce as they had made their mind up.

“It’s the lack of meaningful consultation that has been the worst thing. I don’t think the closure will save any money at all in the long term.”

Isabel Alverez teaches yoga to clients at the centre. She said: “For people who use the centre, it’s like coming to a friend’s house as the staff are so caring.

“I feel so sorry that this centre is going to close. It’s a cruel thing to happen to vulnerable people.”

Chris Munn, who used to work at the centre providing activities, said: “The centre provides a badly-needed service, as carers need respite and a break otherwise they get worn out.

“The staff are extremely experienced with many years working here, are very compassionate and caring. The care would cost a lot more if it was done elsewhere.”

An East Sussex County Council (ESCC) spokesman said: “The decision to recommission the services provided at the Isabel Blackman Centre in Hastings and the Charter Centre in Bexhill within the independent sector was taken by Cabinet in June 2018, with consideration given to all feedback from an eight-week public consultation and a series of meetings with service users.

“The decision will enable the council to deliver the same level of care to those attending both centres in a more cost effective way, and has helped avoid cuts elsewhere in services for vulnerable, older people.

“While there is a wide range of alternative services available in the independent sector in the Hastings and Bexhill area, this was not true of Lewes and surrounding areas.

“Therefore, the decision was taken to continue to provide services at the Phoenix Centre, which had been included in the review.

“Our priority has been ensuring that our clients continue to receive appropriate support within the independent sector.

“No decision has been made on the Isabel Blackman Centre building and any proposals for its future use will be subject to assessment and decision making through ESCC’s established democratic governance processes.”

The county council said cuts in funding from central government, an increase in demand and rising costs, has meant that the authority has had to make savings of more than £110m since the start of the decade.

It added that in 2018-19 it needs to find a further £17m of savings, nearly £10m of which must come from the adult social care budget.

Read also:

This is when much-loved Hastings day centre will shut.

Hastings councillors call for second look at day centre closure.

Closure confirmed for day centres for elderly and disabled in Hastings and Bexhill.