Campaigners win temporary reprieve for Borders’ only disability centre

Cll. Bill White chats to Isobel Ness, Marina Webster and Bob Anderson about their concerns when the Ability Centre in Galashiels closes.
Cll. Bill White chats to Isobel Ness, Marina Webster and Bob Anderson about their concerns when the Ability Centre in Galashiels closes.

Campaigners fighting to save the Borders’ only centre for the physically disabled have scrapped plans to air their views at a formal meeting on the closure now that a decision has been deferred.

Members and carers of Galashiels’ Ability Centre understood a report was due to be presented to the Social Work and Housing Committee recommending that their centre be replaced by a ‘social centre’ for physically disabled people, when social work staff are pulled out of the building later this year.

But TheSouthern now understands, thanks to the intervention of MSPs and councillors supporting of the campaign, no decision will be taken until the committee has visited the centre to speak to members, and see the situation for themselves.

The chairman of the centre management committee, Bill Calder, spoke on behalf of members and carers to welcome the news: “We are delighted that the committee members seem willing to listen to what our members have to say. All we have been seeking is the opportunity to put our case. We now have high hopes that the meeting with the members of the social work committee will be positive, and that it will start a new chapter in the future of the centre.”

Earlier in the week, disabled members of the Ability Centre disputed the Social Work Department’s claim that the proposed social centre will replace its services, pointing out it will have no transport, no trained staff and no facility for wheelchair users. In December, TheSouthern reported their concerns that the proposed changes would condemn them to isolation in their own homes 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Local MSP John Lamont said: “It is a truly unique facility, and from speaking to those who use it you could tell that the help they provide is greatly appreciated. That is why it is so baffling that Scottish Borders Council has considering closing it.

“The work they do is crucial to those who use it. With no similar service on offer anywhere else in the Borders, these people will be losing a service that they hold dear. The Ability Centre is a vibrant service that is growing in popularity, and to consider closing it now beggars belief. Although there is undoubtedly a need to find room in the budget, getting rid of this Centre would be a backwards move.”

Gala councillor Bill White added: “I think it would be a mistake to close the Ability Centre. It is an excellent facility, which needs to be expanded, not contracted. These are people just like you or I, struck down by an illness. Members feel confident they can prove to the social work department they can make it work. ”

Elaine Torrance, Head of Social Care and Health, confirmed no decision is expected to be taken at today’s meeting, but indicated no change in their position: “The director of social work will recommend that the Ability Centre remains open as a social centre run by a voluntary organisation with support from the Council.

“An outreach service will be provided across the region so all people with eligible needs can take advantage of support when required. We recognise this is an anxious time for people using the service but can reassure all those attending and their families that all individuals currently receiving support will continue to do so.”

The meeting starts at 10am in the Council Chamber at Newtown.