'A devastating blow to families in need' - Lifeline day centre closure looms

Jasmine Hass and Jamie Paterson attend the Skills Development Centre at Aurora Orchard Manor in Meldreth

Jasmine Hass and Jamie Paterson attend the Skills Development Centre at Aurora Orchard Manor in Meldreth - the day service is set to close on July 23. - Credit: Archant

In little over a week's time, families will be left without the lifeline provision of a specialist day centre that enriches the lives of their severely disabled sons and daughters beyond comprehension. 

The Skills Development Centre at Aurora Orchard Manor in Meldreth is to close - leaving families like Jim and Julie Paterson from Stevenage and Vaughan and Inga Hass from Letchworth without the specialist day support their adult children need due to having severe and complex disabilities. 

Since the closure announcement -  with 10 weeks' notice to parents - questions have been asked about how the centre could be saved and about the lack of provision generally. A statement released by Aurora stated the closure was due to a decrease in demand and a change in government policy promoting inclusion in the community. 

Letchworth's Inga Hass with Jasmine, who has complex disabilities and attends Aurora Orchard Manor in Meldreth

Letchworth's Inga Hass with her daughter Jasmine, who has complex disabilities and has attended Aurora Orchard Manor in Meldreth for nine years. - Credit: Inga Hass

These families are are now having to face losing the centre when it closes on July 23 - and many don't currently have suitable alternative provision for their children. 

Inga Hass, whose daughter Jasmine has attended the skills centre for a decade, told this newspaper: "We need to have day services in place. There is all this talk about community inclusion -  they are in the community, they are living at home but they need somewhere to go where they can be with other young people and access specialised support like sensory and hydrotherapy.

"Why is it that people in residential can access these things? It should be inclusion in the community where you provide facilities for these young people, not take them away. 

"Jasmine needs a place where she can access sensory, rebound and hydrotherapy. She needs a high level of care to have the best quality of life.

"I fought for her to go to Orchard Manor 10 years ago, and I said 'what happens when her time at Orchard Manor is up' and was told 'well hopefully there will be more places to access by then'.

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"But it hasn't happened. It's just passing the buck and leaving families like ours coasting along.

"She went off to Orchard Manor today and she was smiling, she was happy. And when she comes back she's happy and tired. She gets out of her chair into a specialist pod. They do cookery and all sorts of sensory stuff.

Inga Hass's daughter Jasmine, who attends the specialist day centre at Orchard Manor in Meldreth

Inga Hass's daughter Jasmine, who attends the specialist day centre at Orchard Manor in Meldreth - Credit: Inga Hass

"It's lovely to have her at home, but she needs to be able to access these things in the community. For 30 years I have been fighting for her and being her voice."

Inga has started a petition calling on the government to provide funding to local councils ringfenced for the provision of essential day care services for those with severe disabilities and complex needs within the community.

Her petition says: "As Government policy encourages inclusion within the community, specialist day services should be accessible to all severely disabled people, with complex needs, and are unavailable or unsuitable at present.

"Government funding must be provided to local councils, for these vulnerable adults and should be a priority. Money that is ringfenced to provide suitable day care facilities to ensure each of these individuals, quality of life, health and well-being."

Inga told this paper why she started the petition: "I am thinking about all the people now who are coming through the system of special schools and they will be facing these problems and their parents may not have the energy to fight. 

"These people are life limited - so you've got to give them a good quality of life - they have the same rights as everyone else. 

"Change needs to happen. These people are going into the community and there's nothing for them. The system needs to be revamped. Money needs to be put into this for the future of people on this end of the disability spectrum."

Inga has also spoken about lockdown lifting and what it means for Jasmine. 

"There's only so much I can do," she said. "Jasmine needs 24-hour care and I do everything, but I can't provide these amazing facilities. At the centre she is mixing with her peers her age, she has the freedom to be herself and be out of her chair.

"We've got to be so careful about where she goes, she's very vulnerable and she needs to be around people like her. 

"Lockdown is lifting and the world is opening up and Jasmine's world is closing down - there needs to be more out there for people like her."

The Hass family's MP Sir Oliver Heald told this newspaper: "I have presented the petition sent to me by Inga Hass to ministers at the Department of Health and Social Care and I am awaiting their reply. 

"Clearly the closure is a decision made by Aurora, but I know they have done good work with the service users and I support a strong network of services to meet their needs.

Sir Oliver has also been in touch with the government's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy which deals with skills and training and they see this case as one where the Department of Health and Social Care takes the policy lead.

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

Jim and Julie Paterson's son Jamie also attends Orchard Manor. 

Mum Julie said: "As it stands there isn't a day centre Jamie can go to when Orchard Manor closes. It's gong to be really difficult because Orchard Manor is so beautiful  - yesterday Jamie came home with a bunch of flowers for me. We have looked at other sites but they are not suitable. 

"We have had good support from the social worker and we have had good intervention from the MP. We have to thank Michelle Dudderidge of Hand in Hands who are going to provide care for Jamie while we keep looking.

"If we got ill, that's our greatest fear, because we do need carers for Jamie so we are relieved there will be something for us. We have been lucky, but what about the others? This care is something everyone who needs it should have."

The Paterson's MP, Stephen McPartland, said: “This is a devastating blow for local families and I have been working closely with Julie, Jim and Jamie to support them.

"I am 100 per cent behind the family and we are looking at what we can do to try and ensure the right support is in place, so Jamie can have access to the best possible care.

"There is very little understanding of the impact these decisions have on the families that use them and we must develop an alternative locally.”

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said: “We has recently been advised of the decision by Aurora to stop providing some of their current day service opportunities to non-residents at Orchard Manor  in July 2021.

"The county council provides funding for a small number of our residents to attend these day services. We understand that they and their families will have concerns about these changes and we will work with them and the provider to find the best possible outcome for their continued care."

A statement from the Aurora Group said: “The Skills Development Centre will close on July 23 because there are no longer enough young people being referred for day placements with sufficient funding to cover its running costs. Residential services are unaffected.

“The centre’s closure is not a reflection on the quality of the day service that we know families appreciate.

“Government policy changed some time ago to favour community inclusion, which is often more economic to provide. Many similar organisations to ours have already closed their day services for this reason.

“We are supporting affected families compassionately as far as a provider is able to do so. Providers however aren’t generally allowed to share information about individuals in their care.

“We continue to support those families who invite us to do so as they work with local authorities carrying out their role of identifying the best possible alternatives.”

To sign the petition go to https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/588916