New Eric Gray is ‘only option’

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Campaigning for a new Eric Gray Centre are (from left):  Louise Smith, Rebecca Sinclair, Davie Napier, Neil Risk, John Hunter and John Bulter. Photo: Adam Guest

Campaigning for a new Eric Gray Centre are (from left): Louise Smith, Rebecca Sinclair, Davy Napier, Neil Risk, John Hunter and John Bulter. Photo: Adam Guest

Parents, carers and members of the Shetland Special Needs Action Group are continuing to call for a speedy resolution to end the uncertainty over a new Eric Gray Centre.

Their reaction comes after councillors backed the option for a new facility – costing around £5.65 million – providing day services for adults with learning disabilities, autistic spectrum disorders and complex needs.

The move by councillors last week was the latest development, as parents and carers continue to fight for a new centre, with growing pressure on the Eric Gray Centre and Gressy Loan.

Parent Leslie Smith argued the case for a new facility during the meeting of the council’s special social services committee on Thursday.

In the meeting committee members were asked to look at three options:

• Build a new centre at Seafield;

• Continue to use the Eric Gray Centre at Kantersted and the additional support needs building at Gressy Loan – with significant repairs and upgrade work needed at the Eric Gray Centre;

• Modify or extend existing buildings to meet projected needs – either the Eric Gray Centre or Gressy Loan, or potentially another building.

Campaigners want a new Eric Gray Centre developed.

Campaigners want a new Eric Gray Centre developed.

Louise Smith was present at Thursday’s meeting, she said: “I was in tears at that meeting because what Leslie was saying was just so good. The tears were running down my face because you thought why are we here saying the same thing again.

“I ken we’re trying not to be emotive and you’re trying to be factual with everything that’s going on, but I tend to get quite emotional. It doesn’t take anybody with two brains, you know, especially when they’re [the council] talking about using the Gressy Loan , it’s like entrapment and giving them [the users] no freedom and no choice.”

Speaking to The Shetland Times on Monday, the group talked at length about how a new building was the only suitable option.

Rebecca Sinclair, has a teenage daughter who attends Gressy Loan, she has a rare chromosome disorder, severe learning difficulties and lots of ongoing health needs.

Rebecca said the Gressy Loan location was far too limiting and the surrounding of the Knab was dangerous with poor fencing and shallow walls.

She said this was “a recipe for disaster” for users who suffer with impulse control and a lack of awareness.

The group added the current Eric Gray Centre was “far too small” – causing problems for wheelchair users and making it difficult to cater for a much larger spectrum of needs in Shetland compared to 30 years ago.

“The building is that small when it comes to things like mealtimes the staff have to really manage it. They have to move users around and put them [the users] into different rooms to sit down and have their meals,” Rebecca said.

“Staff have to be managing any situation and be super-aware of what might occur because they haven’t got the space to just sit down and have a meal.”

Allison Duncan vice-chairman of the council’s special social services committee last night admitted the issue of developing a new centre had gone on for a long time.

He said the matter should come in front of the full council by the end of June but other options had to be looked at in more detail to make sure the council was getting the best value, in accordance with watchdog Audit Scotland.

Unanimous support for developing a new centre was given by the special social services committee last week. Although there are many more stages to go through before the development can be approved.

Asked if he was confident of a new centre becoming reality Mr Duncan said: “I think we have no alternative but to make it happen. I think there’s a feeling among many of the councillors that we cannot delay and we must get on with it.”

He said this was because of an increase in the number of people with special needs and learning disabilities.

Mr Duncan said he had visited the Eric Gray Centre three or four times and the message really struck home on a visit with five or six other councillors about how outdated the centre was for present needs.

“Thank goodness we have got it back on the radar,” he said.

Mr Duncan said a new Eric Gray Centre was one of the first things on his manifesto in 2007.

“By god we need it,” he added.

• A full report, including more reaction will be included in The Shetland Times, 4th April edition.

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