'How can it be right to target the most vulnerable people in our society?' - Distraught parents of a seriously-disabled young man fight to save Harborough day care centre

They are being backed by a Harborough district councillor who says there are “many questions for the county council to answer”

By Red Williams
Monday, 6th September 2021, 5:03 pm
Nicola and Michael Brooks
Nicola and Michael Brooks

The distraught parents of a seriously-disabled young man are urging Leicestershire County Council to carry on running a vital day care centre he goes to in Market Harborough.

Michael and Nicola Brooks, both 64, are fighting to keep open Roman Way Day Centre in the town centre after hailing it as their “absolute lifeline”.

The couple are going into battle as their 32-year-old son – who’s got a developmental age of just 24 months – has attended the vital support complex five days a week for almost 12 years.

Mr and Mrs Brooks are launching a campaign to defend the critical care hub amid a major proposed shake-up of Community Life Choices services by the hard-up council.

The family are being backed by Harborough district councillor Phil Knowles as he said there are “many questions for the county council to answer” over the highly-emotive issue.

Michael, of Gardiner Street, Market Harborough, told the Harborough Mail: “This whole episode is heartbreaking for us – and for many people like us across Leicestershire.

“We know that the county council is trying to cut spending and is short of cash.

“But how can it be right to target the most vulnerable people in our society - and those who need the most help and support?

“We love our son wholeheartedly and we wouldn’t be without him,” said Michael, a retired educational psychologist.

“But he has profound and complex disabilities.

“He has also been diagnosed with autism.

“So it’s very tough for two people into their 60s to be looking after a young man who’s 33 next month but has the developmental age of a two-year-old.

“We are living on a perpetual knife edge – just a minor injury at any time away from being to care for him.

“My son is not untypical of the service users.

“Imagine an impulsive 5'8" tall not yet toilet-trained toddler with no speech, no sense of personal safety, very unsteady on his feet.

“As with many in this population, he also has a diagnosis of autism,” said Michael, a father-of-five.

“Autism is characterised by very high levels of anxiety.

“He is picked up outside our house at 9am from Monday to Friday, taken to the Roman Way facility and he’s dropped back off at 3pm.

“Our son has been going there since he was 21.

“He gets on so well with the fantastic staff there and he’s made good friends with other clients.

“He gets excellent support from the caring, compassionate staff as well as enjoying its kitchen, sensory stimulation room, gardens and other activity rooms.

“He looks at the lights, he listens to music and they encourage him to join in activities such as painting and cooking,” said Michael.

“The centre was closed from March to October last year after the Covid pandemic hit us – and it became almost impossible for us.

“I had him for 20-plus hours a day every day.

“We used to walk into the town centre to watch the traffic.

“He wakes up at 1.30am every morning and I’m also with him most of the night – so I’m continually chronically sleep deprived and shattered.

“Putting critical day care centres like Roman Way out to private tender never goes well – the levels of care and attention are just never the same.

“Roman Way Day Care centre is a massive success story.

“I simply don’t know how we’d cope without it.

“And many people like us both in Harborough and throughout Leicestershire will be in the same position if these centres do get shut.

“They are absolutely vital both for the parents of clients and for the people who go along.

“The service that our son receives at the Roman Way centre is consistently predictable, it’s reliable, it’s second to none,” said Michael.

“We pay about £55-a-week to send him there – and it’s worth every penny and far more.

“So my emotional plea from the heart to the county council is simple – please keep Roman Way Day Centre open and continue to run it just as it is now.”

Cllr Phil Knowles, who leads the Liberal Democrat group on Harborough council, told the Mail: “This first-class day centre is on my ward – and I’m very concerned about what’s happening.

“I realise that the county council is striving to save money.

“But we are talking about real life here – so many vulnerable and under-pressure people’s lives and real hardship.

“I know the incredible staff at the centre provide a variety of support structures for a whole variety of people.

“This facility is also used out of hours by a big cross-section of local community groups,” said Cllr Knowles.

“I will be talking to the Brooks family about their son’s situation and the entire scenario here.

“The county council have a lot of very pertinent questions to answer – and I want them answering urgently.”

A Leicestershire County Council spokesperson told the Mail: “We are pleased families value the support they receive through Community Life Choices.

“That’s why we want to hear from them regarding potential changes which could see more people getting help through the independent sector rather than from the council directly.

“We already pay for many families to get support from the independent sector and fewer and fewer people are coming to day services run by the council.

“We have started a consultation, which runs until midnight on October 26, and we’ll use the responses from that to draw up proposals that will go to our cabinet on 14 December 2021.”

They added: “Before that point, it is too early to say how the service will be provided.

“We have been keeping families affected informed at every step and whatever decisions are made they will be supported through any change.”

There are 16 people registered to use the Roman Way Day Centre through Community Life Choices - though not all of them are regular attenders at the moment.

In total 10 council staff are involved in delivering the service at Roman Way – and there are eight day care centres in Leicestershire.

You can find out more about the county’s proposed changes here: https://www.leicestershire.gov.uk/have-your-say/current-engagement/in-house-community-life-choices-day-servicesAnd you are being urged to have your say on the controversial scheme here: https://surveys.leics.gov.uk/snapwebhost/s.asp?k=162875892392