Rowde villagers joined for a socially distanced and peaceful protest today, in the centre of the village to show their support for the Save Furlong Close campaign.
More show of solidarity than protest, if “protest” is now a dirty word and standing up for your rights is to be considered illicit. It was good to meet those heading this campaign to deflect the closing of Furlong Close, home to 36 vulnerable adults with learning disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism and epilepsy.
Reflecting on a thought I’d said in previous articles on this campaign, campaign leader Trish specified how the residents of Furlong Close were a big part of the village community and would be missed if it was to close down. We also discussed that while the red tape between Wiltshire Council and the owning charity HFT continues, the opinions of both locals and residents are being ignored.
We’ve covered the tragic plans on Devizine at length, in the past; hearing direct from Mark Steele, a member of the campaign’s steering group, who has family at Furlong Close. The Gazette & Herald ran an edition with a wrap-around page campaign, and over a staggering 44,000 have signed the petition, therefore I do not wish to go over the same ground. We know this is a terrible decision, we are aware the residents do not wish to be dispersed and move into isolated and lonely single accommodations they’re unfamiliar with, we only need a workable solution.
Yet with the backing of many local councillors, Anna Cuthbert and Lib Dem candidate for Bromham, Rowde and Roundway, Mark Mangham in attendance today, the backing of the media, and in particular, the local people, I sincerely hope we can turn this around and end on a feel-good story. The show of hope and solidarity today proves this is possible. Mark said it was, “humbling to be among the campaigners, many related to residents and from beyond Wiltshire. Many Rowde residents are volunteers. This is what community feels like!”
It has been some time since we’ve covered the disgraceful fiasco at Rowde’s Furlong Close, where residents with learning disabilities face closure of the HFT site, their home, and undefined, separated relocation.
The reason being, the situation had fallen into a political stalemate, as HFT ceased all dealings with Wiltshire Council. It seems HFT are no strangers to closing sites down, and equally Wiltshire Council’s reaction is lacklustre. I cannot decide who is really to blame in all this, but something certainly doesn’t add up; perhaps they’re both as bad as each other, and the clock is ticking for May 19th when closure is planned. You know me, I’ve been concerned my anger at this issue will lead me to publish speculation, and the last thing I want is put forth misleading information.
Now, it seems, via a Tweet from The Save Furlong Close campaign group, in a memo released on Easter Sunday, Wiltshire Council Leader, Philip Whitehead advised councillors and future Conservative candidates to block all correspondence with Save Furlong Close Campaigners, in fear it’s being used as “an election matter.”
This is very concerning, while both sides battle the politics out, the Save Furlong Close campaigners are merely worried for the future prospects for the residents there, and least deserve a voice. So, I’m pleased to be able to publish an article, by Mark Steele, a member of the campaign’s steering group, which outlines the history and current situation.
I merely offer to endorse their rightful campaign and promote it as much as possible. If then, residents of Furlong Close are indeed moved out, it will be a terrible day for Wiltshire, and a shameful reflection on a county council, but if this happens and I stood there and did nothing, it’s a shame I would partly bear too, and I have no intentions of that happening. I hope our readers and supporters will agree, and I fully believe, with the permissions of the campaign group, we need to arrange a socially distanced peaceful protest, as soon as feasible. So, WHO IS WITH ME? Watch this space, but here’s Mark’s outline of the happenings in Rowde.
SAVE FURLONG CLOSE
“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
For the last 30 years, Furlong Close has been home to 36 vulnerable adults with learning disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism and epilepsy. The residents live in 5 bungalows in a cul-de-sac at the edge of the village of Rowde, sharing a community hall, workshops and gardens (including a market garden and pens for sheep and rabbits). It is a short walk to the centre of Rowde and a short bus ride to Devizes. Many of the residents have lived at Furlong Close for more than 20 years. They are happy and settled, have formed life-long friendships and are a close and caring community.
In October last year, however, it was announced that Hft (the charity which owns and operates the site) and Wiltshire Council (which funds the majority of the residents) had “jointly” decided that everyone was to be “moved on” by June 2021, the site shut down and the land sold off for development. The shocked families were told that there would be no consultation or discussion; it was a “done deal”.
Already reeling from the emotional impact of the pandemic and cut off from the support of their families, the residents were fearful and anxious. Their disabilities make change extremely stressful for them and being forcibly evicted from their home of 20+ years would cause them great trauma and distress. For some, the trauma would be life-shortening. My cousin, David, who has lived at Furlong Close for 18 years, was left in fear of the future and telephoned his 95-year-old mother, Audrey, many times a day, often in tears, to ask her where he would go and who would look after him. Sadly, Audrey passed away in March, spending the last months of her life wracked with worry about what would happen to her beloved and vulnerable only child (https://twitter.com/savefurlongcl/status/1374671484187242507).
So, why is Furlong Close facing closure? At first, Hft and the Council said it was “not about money”, but was only about doing the best for the residents. It was said that “moving them on” from their settled and happy homes would be an “exciting opportunity” for them, but no-one could quite explain how breaking up a happy community and scattering them to new and strange places would be either “exciting” or an “opportunity”. Certainly, it was an “opportunity” which none of the residents or their families wanted. Subsequently, it became clear that it was in fact “all about money” after all, with Hft accusing the Council of grossly underfunding the site over many years and refusing to pay the full costs of care.
Faced with this cruel threat to the well-being of our vulnerable relatives, the families organised and the local community rallied to our cause. People became angry. 43,000 people, from Wiltshire and beyond, signed a petition. Legal proceedings were commenced by the family of one resident, to seek to have the decision set aside as a breach of her human rights.
Faced with this local anger, Wiltshire Council promptly threw Hft under the bus. It claimed that the “joint decision” was nothing to do with it, but solely a matter for Hft. Hft responded angrily, accusing the Council of “lying” and trying to “hide behind” it, and gave notice that it was withdrawing services, not just from Furlong Close, but from Wiltshire as a whole. With Hft and the Council each pointing the finger at the other, the situation deteriorated into what has recently been described by a judge in the pending legal proceedings as “a shambolic mess”.
As the clock ticks down to the termination of Hft’s contract for the site on 19 May, the residents and their families fear that we are being hung out to dry. Hft has offered the Council the chance to buy or lease the site and bring in another operator, but neither has taken decisive action to make this happen. Many suspect that the Council is just playing for time, to try and kick the can down the road until after the Council election in May. Meanwhile innocent and vulnerable people are suffering and the families are calling on Hft and Wiltshire Council to act now to save Furlong Close.