Council defers decision on Ability Centre

The council’s decision to delay a “redesign” of the Borders’ only centre for the physically disabled has been welcomed by campaigners, writes Sandy Neil.

Members and carers of Galashiels’ Ability Centre learned a report was due to be presented to the Social Work and Housing Committee last Thursday, recommending that their 20-year-old facility be replaced by a “social centre”.

They also contested the Social Work Department’s claim that the centre was being “redesigned” not closed.

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

“It was the right decision,” Melrose councillor Jim Torrance told TheSouthern, “as it gives all the councillors on the committee a chance to speak to the users of the Ability Centre.

“I think the problem has been that the users have been saying one thing, and the council officers another. Users have been saying it is going to close when the intention has always been to redesign the centre. The council is looking for a third party such as an agency to come in to run the centre, but nobody has been appointed yet, with the tendering still to take place.”

Last week members of the Ability Centre disputed the department’s claim that the proposed social centre would replace the Ability Centre, pointing out it will have no transport, no trained staff and no facility for wheel chair users.

Bob Anderson of Selkirk said: “Because the social centre will not have any transport I will not be able to attend and will be stuck at home. I can’t manage on the bus and it costs £24 by taxi there and back which I can’t afford.”

Isobel Ness of Darnick commented: “As a wheelchair user I need someone trained in lifting and handling, so the proposed social centre would not be appropriate for me or any other wheelchair user.”

According to Carole Douglas of Selkirk: “The lack of trained staff means I won’t be able to learn all the things the centre teaches such as relearning how to speak, walk and cook, and new skills such as reception work.”

Cllr Torrance added: “I did have concerns with the tender, including transport costs. Some drivers with volunteer groups will not take people in wheelchairs or who use walking aids. Other agencies do not provide personal care, such as assisting people to get to the toilet. But the committee has been assured by Elaine Torrance (SBC social work department) that the tender will include travel and personal care.”