Campaigners welcome move to scrap Ability Centre redesign plan

Jubilant memmbers of the Galashiels Ability Centre celebrate after hearing of the council's decision not to close the facilities. From left, Dawn Sayers, Isobel Ness and Marina Webster.
Jubilant memmbers of the Galashiels Ability Centre celebrate after hearing of the council's decision not to close the facilities. From left, Dawn Sayers, Isobel Ness and Marina Webster.
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Campaigners fighting to save Galashiels Ability Centre, the physically-disabled’s only one in the region, have welcomed Scottish Borders Council’s decision to drop its report recommending a radical “redesign” of the service.

Many feared this would lead to its closure and their diminished quality of life.

Instead, social work director Andrew Lowe told “surprised but delighted” disabled members of the Ability Centre that he would like to discuss their own six-point plan for the future of the service – proposals which the council had previously rejected.

The members’ plan proposes a return to the original focus of the centre – helping recently-diagnosed disabled people relearn lost skills, learn new skills and regain the confidence to become full and productive members of the community. The plan also envisages extending the service to cover the whole of the Borders.

Welcoming the development, Isobel Ness, vice-chair of the centre’s management committee, said: “Members were surprised and delighted by Mr Lowe’s announcement and by the positive attitude of the social work committee members. We are now very hopeful that the department and ourselves can find a way forward that places the centre at the heart of the service for physically-disabled people in the Borders”.

Rob Nicholson, management committee secretary, confirmed officials are discussing a suitable date for a meeting to discuss the members’ proposal.

He added: “This would seem to be a real opportunity to work together to achieve a bright and positive future for the centre.”

Mr Lowe said: “The management committee has come forward with a fresh proposal, so I have decided to withdraw my report to the social work and housing committee on March 14 in order to give it proper consideration. I plan to meet the committee to discuss their ideas as soon as it can be arranged and if their proposal can add anything, I will look at it. However, it will need to meet some strict tests of affordability, equity and inclusion. The next opportunity for consideration by the social work and housing committee will be May 2.”

Campaign supporters welcomed the council’s apparent U-turn.

Christine Grahame, MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, said: “I am pleased that they have come up with their own proposals to preserve and possibly even expand the services on offer, and I am pleased the social work department are now going to consider these.

“The centre offers social contact to those isolated in their own homes, as well as training in a range of skills. I am delighted the council has decided to withdraw its plans in the meantime and meet with the Ability Centre committee to discuss its proposals and hope they meet the strict criteria the council has set out.”

Borders MSP Jim Hume said: “The Ability Centre is a definite lifeline for some of the most vulnerable people in the Borders. The news will be a big relief to service users and I am pleased that the council has taken on board people’s views.

“There is an opportunity here to explore ways in which the service could be rolled out to more people across the Borders, and council officials’ discussions with committee members will be critical in that process in the months ahead.”