CONFUSION reigned yesterday as a charity for adults with learning disabilities embarked on a campaign to thwart council chiefs’ plans to shut it down – plans the local authority insist never existed.
The Open Door Centre, at St Barnabas Church in Gorse Hill, claimed it was presented with an ultimatum by Swindon Council at the end of November: to receive up to £50,000 for 12 months, starting in April, after which it would have to close for good, or go on without any further financial help.
The day service, which currently has 130 users, needs £130,000 to cover running costs each year. It had so far been awarded the majority of its funding, around £98,000, by the local authority.
Yesterday the charity voted at an extraordinary general meeting to continue in the face of adversity and reject the council’s interim contract.
Members, relatives, staff and volunteers claim the council is attempting to take away their haven and spend its budget on a new Swindon-wide outreach programme.
Management committee chairman Gerry Meale said: “We cannot, in good conscience, accept proposals that will have a negative impact on the lives of our members and the support that they receive from Open Door.
“We realise this decision comes at a high price for us, as we move into an unprecedented period of sustained austerity and uncertainty. We will be faced with some tough decisions when it comes to staff redundancies, cutting back our service and allocating our remaining funds to keep our vital service open for as long as possible. But now, perhaps more so than at any time in our 28-year history, it is the right and proper course of action for us to take and one that our members agree with wholeheartedly.”
As part of the interim contract, the charity’s funding would be reduced from around £100,000 to around £50,000. In order to receive the sum, it was asked, it said, to abide by two rules.
It would be unable to accept new members for three months and only allowed to run two and a half days each week instead of five.
But the council strongly denies it is forcing the charity to fold, insisting the interim contract never suggested they close at the end of 12 months. A Swindon Council spokesman said: “Open Door operates a drop-in service and, following feedback from a consultation on changes to services for people with a learning disability, we have taken the decision to change the contract so that we provide personalised support for individuals leading to employment or other opportunities.
“We are in the process of re-shaping the new service and had hoped to renew our existing contract with Open Door on reduced terms. The purpose of this was to encourage services to be developed away from a single base in Gorse Hill, while ensuring that a service continued to be available for existing users.
“At no point did we suggest that Open Door would have to close at the end of the 12-month contract.
“In fact we hoped the offer to extend the contract would have allowed them to continue, protecting the interests of service users and ensuring that all service users had a personal support plan in place. We have made several offers to meet the trustees of Open Door and we still hope to discuss with them any concerns they may have.”