West Sussex County Council defends cuts in tour of day care centre

People at the Strawford Day Centre making crowns for the summer carnival. Photo by Derek Martin
People at the Strawford Day Centre making crowns for the summer carnival. Photo by Derek Martin

The County Council has defended their decision to make changes in care for disabled people at Horsham’s Strawford Centre during an exclusive tour of the facilities.

In recent weeks the County Times has featured personal experiences of how cuts to people’s care packages have affected them negatively with specific reference to the day centre on Blatchford Road, which caters for people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

JPCT 030512 Strawford Day Centre. Woodwork teacher Bob Chuter working with Jim Brooks. Photo by Derek Martin

JPCT 030512 Strawford Day Centre. Woodwork teacher Bob Chuter working with Jim Brooks. Photo by Derek Martin

People who have been attending the centre for years have been moved into activities held off site, which critics say has disrupted their lives, particularly because of how their mental disabilities can affect them.

However, despite the cut backs by West Sussex County Council hundreds of other people are attending activities at the centre and in Horizons, which are groups held off site.

WSCC service manager for learning difficulties and day care Mark Stables and Mandy McGavock manager of the centre told the County Times many are being given opportunities they would never have had in years past or even just months ago.

The Strawford Centre is now a base for more severely disabled people, whereas those who want to explore greater independent living attend the off site Horizon groups, where they carry out a range of activities in the community.

Speaking of a Government agenda called Valuing People, Mr Stables said the guidelines ‘talk about rights and rights to be part of society’. “That’s a major shift in thinking and that’s why Horizons came into being,” he said.

There has been criticism that the severe changes cause more health problems for some people, but Ms McGavock argued the opposite was true for most people. She said: “There’s always been lots of change from day to day.

“We try to support people through changes using simple communication boards. We have upped our game on that.

“Most people report that it’s been a good change. Some people were going for two hours on a bus, and going back five years when there were staff absences, sessions were cancelled and there’s a lot more structure now.”

Mr Stables added: “I think most people find change difficult and people with Down’s Syndrome can find change particularly difficult, and that’s why we try to manage change and that we understand.”

He said the way in which people with learning difficulties are cared for has changed so that they if they want an independent life, they can be supported in achieving it.

“We never teach people to use the phone and then say off you go. Everyone with learning difficulties differs.

“The way services used to work were where we looked at everything wrong with someone. It was a deficit based model and now we’re looking at the asset based model. We are trying to help people the best we can and people surprise you.”

At Strawford they run a popular woodwork room where they have built bird boxes and planters for the garden.

Woodwork tutor Bob Chuter said: “We are enabling people. A lot of these guys have not had the opportunity to do this kind of work before.

“Jim is registered blind and no one ever gave him this chance. We look at the task and see how can we create a situation where these guys can complete it.

“There’s an end product for everybody. We have people come and we make special products for them.

“What we are doing is helping these guys discover skills they never knew that they had.”

In the art room others were busy making crowns for the summer carnival.

Mark Taylor, 30, said: “I come here Tuesday and Thursday and I’m doing art today and woodwork this afternoon. I go to Brinsbury College and do horticulture and gardening.”

Another who wished to remain anonymous said: “I’ve been coming since 2006. I come here everyday and do woodwork and card making. I enjoy it.”

Ms McGavock said they run a range of activities under the banners of Fitness and Wellbeing, Art and Creativity, Community Links, which includes Horizons, Practical Skills and Communication.

They work with customers to tailor their activities to the needs they have and the skills they want to achieve.

Activities include music, cookery, swimming, writing skills, money skills and dance.