'Centre closure has devastated us and support isn't there for Jamie going forward'

Jim and Julie Paterson from Stevenage with their son Jamie who attends Aurora Orchard Manor's Skills Development Centre. 

Jim and Julie Paterson with their son Jamie - he attends Aurora Orchard Manor's Skills Development Centre - a 'lifeline' day service for the 24-year-old who has profound and complex disabilities. - Credit: Paterson family

The parents of a young man from Stevenage with severe disabilities have criticised the care provider closing the day centre he attends - claiming they have been left without support. 

Jamie Paterson has attended the Skills Development Centre at Aurora Orchard Manor in Meldreth since 2017. He is blind, unable to talk, tube-fed,  doubly incontinent, and has complex mobility needs and learning disabilities. He requires 24/7 care. 

When Jamie's parents Julie and Jim read our story last week about the announcement of the July 23 closure of the centre - and that Aurora had said "we are in touch with parents and are doing all that we can to support them" - they contacted us claiming that had not happened in their case. 

Dad Jim said: "They haven't been in touch to support us. What they say sounds nice, that they will do all they can, but what can they do? They have been in touch with a letter completely out of the blue, which basically devastates our young peoples lives.

Jamie Paterson, who attends Aurora Orchard Manor's Skills Development Centre in Meldreth.

Jamie Paterson, who attends Aurora Orchard Manor's Skills Development Centre in Meldreth. - Credit: Julie Paterson

"As a family we are completely devastated at the thought of the skills centre closure, especially as we had to fight so hard to justify the reasons why our son should attend this amazing unit.

"Specifically we need a placement for Jamie that meets his needs, and for Aurora to be involved in his transition to a new place. But absolutely nowhere else in the surrounding area provides the expertise of care, the facilities or experiences enjoyed by the young people as Orchard Manor."

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Today, Orchard Manor said support is there, and "includes working with families to explore alternatives to our day service that are identified as options by individuals’ funders".

Since the closure announcement -  with 10 weeks' notice to parents - questions have been asked about what Aurora has been doing to save the centre. A statement released by Aurora stated the closure was due to a decrease in demand and a change in government policy. 

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Julie said: "Aurora most certainly did not make any attempts to notify us of any financial difficulties. 

"The first that we learnt of any difficulties was with the phone call on May 10 and the letter that we received the day after."

"This last year has been hard enough. During the first lockdown, our son was dumped by the company that provided his personal care. During the second lockdown, we had a letter from Aurora to inform us that he could no longer have Short Stay Breaks at Orchard Manor -  his respite care. Now we are faced with losing his day care.

"None of this is Jamie's fault, and he can't speak so we have to fight for him. We've been doing that for 24 years.  It's been one thing after another, but we will never stop. 

"Our son can be quite shy to start with, but once he becomes familiar with your voice he can be cheeky. He goes into fits of giggles, has tremendous belly-laughs - and staff said sometimes it's the only thing you can hear in the skills centre. He enjoys listening to DVDs and - he listens to stuff that he listened to as a toddler, like Fireman Sam. He also he likes rock anthems such as ACDC and everything in between..

"He's quite capable of expressing his feelings, as well as his tremendous laugh he has a rather frightening angry face. If there's something he doesn't want to happen or he's upset about something he can certain let us know when something is wrong. Then it's up to us to work out what it is.

"He knows when he's going to the skills centre, and he goes off happily. Particularly the first time he went back after lockdown, he was so excited to be going. Even the taxi drivers said 'crikey, he's so excited today'. 

"If anything the threat of this closure has highlighted the fact that there are so few facilities that cater for young people and adults with profound and multiple learning disabilities. 

"If you try and find places that offer a hydrotherapy pool, rebound activities, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, a nurse on site, spacious grounds and more, you would find it impossible. That is why we need to try and fight keep this unit open."

A statement from The Aurora Group said:  “All of us at Aurora do not underestimate the impact of our difficult but unavoidable decision to close the Skills Development Centre.

“We tried for some time to keep the centre open at a time when many other organisations throughout the UK offering similar day services have already closed their centres.

"Government policy has favoured community inclusion for some time, and it is usually more economic to provide. Regrettably we have no alternative as the centre no longer has enough demand with sufficient funding to cover running costs.

“We understand families’ concerns. We aren’t permitted to discuss individual circumstances however it is important to be clear that the support that we are able to give as a provider is on offer to families.

“This includes working with families to explore alternatives to our day service that are identified as options by individuals’ funders. We will continue to make suggestions where appropriate for families to consider.

“Our caring and experienced staff are ready to support those families who invite us to work with them and their funders as they look at the best possible options.”

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