It was a wonderfully professional-looking cake, we bought for a birthday of yore, from the residents of the nearby facility for adults with learning disabilities, now known as HFT Rowde. Making this a tricky piece to balance. While one doesn’t want to criticise a charity, as villagers and townsfolk of Devizes rally to get a decision to close the facility by the central office of the charity HFT overturned, there’s a notion this is not in the best interest of the residents.
HFT divisional director Emma Bagley explained they have, “been supporting people at our residential, day and supported living services at Rowde, which is a campus site, for many years.” It has, in fact, been running the facility for only five out of twenty-eight years it has been active. Furlong Close was first opened in 1992 as Care (Cottage and Rural Enterprises Ltd,) which was pioneered by Peter Forbes in the sixties. The site endorsed an “independent living” model, revolutionary at the time, consisting of four purpose-built bungalows, each with two associated one-bed flats and it was made possible by a generous £1.25m gift from Birmingham’s the Dofra Masonic Lodge.
The director outlined, “it has long been recognised that campus sites (group homes clustered together in the same site and usually sharing staff and some facilities) do not offer the best outcomes for most people. Our regulator, CQC, and Wiltshire Council do not support this model of care and a campus style site would not be registered by CQC, should a provider propose to set one up now.” Causing me to ponder, in which case, why did they take it over in the first place, if it’s so unsuitable?
Some background notes provided by a relative of one of the residents considered of the “airy, spacious, and homely” purpose-built homes, made to accommodate wheelchair users, and each with private outdoor space as well as free access to the grounds, “demonstrated the Gold Standard of what care for learning disabled adults should look like. That vision stands today, but is being systematically destroyed by regulation and drastic underspending on adult social care over many years and governments.” Irrefutably, the grounds are idyllic in a desirable location, with a central hall for social events, and a horticulture workshop, chicken runs, an orchard and even a sheep grazing area. Rumoured in the village, HFT attempted to sell part of the land some years ago. Herein lies my understandable concern, and if you mess with anyone who made me a cake, you mess with me!
It’s as if HFT perceive the site as “Craggy Island,” some barren garrison cut off from the mainland. Yet villagers know as well as the excellent facilities used by residents, for day service users and training purposes, Rowde is not far from town, and the residents of Furlong Close are known and liked in the village. They are welcomed here and valued, often taking jobs in pubs and cafes, or cutting the churchyard grass. This is not an isolated, campus style residential care home, rather it is home, which many residents have lived in since it was built.
HFT expressed, “HFT and Wiltshire Council are committed to finding services that follow best practice and support people to live as independently as possible in smaller, community-based settings where people have more independence, choice and control over their lives.” Now, I ask you, is there anything I’ve outlined about life in Furlong close which would make you consider it not meeting these conditions?
“For this reason,” they continue, despite the grey area outlined, “we have made the decision to close our service at Rowde. The targeted closure date is the end of June 2021 after a careful transition process has taken place to support people to find new support. However, this is dependent on all of the people living at Rowde successfully moving to their new homes. Wiltshire Council and other out of county commissioners will be consulting with the people supported at Furlong Close to conduct a detailed assessment of their individual needs, to secure them a new home and/or support in line with their assessed needs and best interests.” Consulting, yes, consulting is good. Did anyone think to consult the actual people living there, you know, prior to the decision being made? Might’ve been a thoughtful option.
HFT make a point in saying, they’re “working closely with local authorities to support the ongoing assessment process. In addition to this we are closely monitoring the impact of the closure on the health and wellbeing of individuals.” Described akin to livestock here, the bombshell was delivered to residents, their family, and staff in the form of a letter, dated October 13th, preceded by some phone calls. Could they pinpoint Rowde on a map?
I apologise if I am slamming a charity doing great work with disabilities, their website glosses a firm and assertively caring approach, though my comments asking why on their Facebook page were promptly deleted, but I cannot see it another way. It is cruel and inhumane, a content and settled community of extremely vulnerable learning-disabled adults, some elderly and suffering from underlying health problems and dementia, are being turfed out of their homes to be relocated at the cost of the Council; something is fishy here. Is HFT a charity, or a business with an eye on a right good earner for WC?
I’ve had a similar issue with an eminent charity when I wanted to donate profits from a forthcoming book project. I was told I had to guarantee them a fixed donation or I would be liable for the rest, under the guise they have a corporate identity to uphold. I expressed concern the book would not raise the thousands they asked for, and I left feeling uneasy and upset, being more like a business deal than fundraising. Villager Mandy Humphreys has initiated a petition to get this decision overturned. She says “it’s very hard in this climate to effectively protest, no marches allowed, no properly public council meetings.”
I put my suspicions to Mandy, “it seems to me, HFT may be non-profit making, perhaps not, but it’s almost as if it’s a ‘business in disguise,’ they use a charity status to their advantage, as do public schools who collect as a charity then run a simple outreach program and get a better tax deal.”
“Exactly,” was the short answer, others I have spoken to rebuked it, thus it becomes political. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, and need to focus on the issue in hand.
“My question is,” Mandy sustained, “if HFT think this is in the best interests of the residents, then why are they not closing all their campus-based centres? The residents are really upset, some have lived there since it opened and were told that it was their home for as long as they needed it. Just awful.”
And it is too, I ponder, as I receive a friendly “morning” from a passing villager off for his morning walk, in which it would seem he counts every step he takes. He is resident at Furlong Close. He takes the same route every day, he is pleasant, always stops to talk. Though I fear putting him off his count if I chat, he takes a mental note of the number and initiates the conversation! He continues on his way. He seems content, appears happy. Please, please, sign this petition, whatever the reasoning, and while it is not for me to criticise those decisions made from professionals, something about this whole affair feels inhumane and ill-thought out regardless of if cruelty was the intention, or profit is on the agenda or not.