Two adventurers who undertook the West Highland Way for Disability Shetland say the joys of their epic adventure were tempered by significant funding cuts.
The charity has learned that over £15,000 of SIC money, which had been used to help run youth clubs for youngsters with disabilities and additional support needs, has been axed.
Meanwhile, the application for a £175,000 five-year package from the National Lottery has also been turned down.
The double-whammy comes on the tail of a massive fundraising drive by charity committee members Sandy Peterson and Kenny Groat.
The duo completed their 96-mile trek for the charity’s adult sports clubs, which saw them raise £3,500 through their Just Giving page. Other donations being physically handed to them have helped raise the tally further to their anticipated £4,000 target.
However, the fundraisers argue reasons given for the cut by director of children’s services Helen Budge failed to stack up, after she said youngsters with disabilities would benefit from taking part in mainstream clubs.
Mr Peterson told this newspaper: “A lot of parents will have been annoyed and disappointed by that response, because I suppose it’s the kind of thing they would love to be true.
A lot of parents will have been annoyed and disappointed by that response, because I suppose it’s the kind of thing they would love to be true. – SANDY PETERSON
“If you bring bairns with disabilities or special needs into a mainstream club – it’s not that they’re not welcome there, they will be welcome there – but, to be honest, everything is moving too fast.
“Other clubs have very specialist programmes which are based on what we know the bairns can cope with. We want to challenge them, don’t get me wrong, but it’s based on the realities of their needs and not some dream that you can just wish away a disability.”
Mr Groat, who serves as chairman for the organisation, became involved with Disability Shetland after seeing the benefit his daughter, Alana, gained from attending Saturday clubs run by the charity.
He said the idea that youngsters who relied on the charity could go to mainstream youth clubs was “completely unworkable”.
“They really do need clubs of their own – especially the ones on the autism spectrum. They need their own special areas and they need to know the people before they can relax and take part in any activities.
“Also, if you’re in the mainstream, they have the running of it and you’ll end up with the disability bairns in the background.”
The charity has resolved to carry on with its services, and is “strenuously” avoiding making its own cuts. It hopes that an application before Children In Need may be forthcoming before long.
Mr Peterson said the council cut of 50 per cent “across the board” was easy for the SIC to do.
“At one time they were willing to hand out money without any kind of inspection. I would’ve been very happy to have been inspected. It would have been nice for them to have come along. That would have given them the right to say, ‘maybe you could cut that’.”
In contrast, the 72-year-old, who also walked from Lerwick to the top of Ronas Hill at New Year to raise cash for the charity, said completing the West Highland Way proved to be a major challenge.
“I think I’ve always believed that if you are asking people to pay you for doing something, it should be something quite difficult.
“So, everything I’ve done, I’ve thought there was a possibility I might not be able to finish.
“That was the case with this as well. There were times during it that I thought it might be too much for me at my time of life.
“People come to me and say, ‘are you okay? Have you recovered from your walk?’ Okay, it’s taken me a few days, I’m not denying that. But all that pain in my legs will go in a couple of days. The pains and the struggles that disabled bairns and adults have in their families will not go away. I think if we’re doing things, it should be quite difficult.”
Mr Groat added he was surprised but happy by the level of support people had given the charity.
He said the walk proved tough, but the two had enjoyed glorious weather throughout.
“We would like to thank everybody that’s donated,” he said.
Mrs Budge said she had examined the budgets for voluntary groups after maintaining the level of grant support given to all voluntary groups over the last three or four years.
During that time she had been asking her executive managers to make cuts to their budgets.
But she said she now felt unable to ask her managers to make further cuts again and continue to maintain the same level of funding to external groups.
She said discussions had been held with Disability Shetland with the idea of continued support for ASN summer play schemes, or holiday clubs, but with cuts to youth clubs because of other opportunities for some youth club users, such as mainstream clubs.
“I recognise that I’ve had to cut this funding. I’ve also had to cut funding across all of children’s services, and I’ve had to do that year on year,” she said.
“This is the first year for a number of years that I’ve actually looked at the voluntary sector.
“We had a conversation with them [Disability Shetland] beforehand around, ‘we think this is coming,’ and then we went back and said ‘we would like to see the summer play scheme continue, and it would be the youth club funding we would look to reduce’.
“There was a degree of flexibility within that. But they accepted what we said.”