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Standing with the disabled

by Michael Ford last modified 15 Jan, 2021 07:02 PM

In this Diocese, many parishes support and care for vulnerable children and adults, making special provisions as an act of love and service. And sometimes they take action on their behalf.

Standing with the disabled

Families and church members outside Furlong Close. In the foreground: family member Trish Gange with Ruth Schofield

The congregation at St Matthew's Rowde are campaigning alongside relatives and residents of a home for people with learning difficulties, after their home came under threat of closure.

Furlong Close in Rowde is run by HFT, a charity with homes throughout England. Many of the Rowde residents have lived there for decades, and the home also provided a day centre before the pandemic hit in March 2020. Decisions made by the charity and Wiltshire Council have left the threat of closure hanging over the centre. Some of the residents are members of Rowde Church, and the congregation have stepped up to support the campaign to keep the home open.

One of the arguments for closure is that the home is campus-style, sometimes felt to leave people isolated from the community. But at Rowde the residents are very much involved. Around 8 of the 35 residents come to church every Sunday, and take an active part in church life, joining in with reading lessons, taking the collection and joining with church social activities.

Rector Ruth Schofield says:

"2020 has been so different to normal, but we still kept in touch. LLM Caroline Culley has provided a fortnightly activity sheet and newsletter to help Furlong Close residents engage with the Bible and pray during lockdown. And one HFT resident read the story of the Magi in our 9 Lessons and Carols on YouTube."

The campaign to save Furlong Close is being led by Antonia Field. She says:

“No one who knows Furlong Close would suggest that its residents are isolated from their local community. They worship, shop, volunteer, eat out, visit the pubs and cafés and work part-time in local businesses.”

Revd Ruth Schofield, rector of Rowde, was filmed with other villagers to raise awareness of the issue.

Watch the video here.<

Sign the petition here.<

St Matthew's Rowde is a Church of England church with a regular congregation of about 30, and is in a benefice with Bromham Church. About 8 residents of HFT Rowde attend every week, and some have longstanding relationships and friendships with other worshippers, some of which predate their moving to Rowde.

When there is a Benefice service at Bromham, the HFT residents are brought to the service by car or minibus, and are welcomed as part of the Bromham church family.

St Matthew's holds social events in non-pandemic times, including 'Stewsday' meals at the local pub or in the church, and a Harvest Lunch held in the hall at Furlong Close. HFT residents always attend, and also take part in occasional skittles evenings with both Rowde and Bromham churches.

In December 2020, St Matthew's put on a Christmas service just for residents of HFT, which was held in the church. 6 residents attended, with their carers.

Standing with the disabled- Furlong Close

Antonia Field’s letter in full:

I write as Chair of The Families and Friends of Furlong Close to explain the situation of the 34 learning disabled residents currently under threat of losing their homes, and of the many day care service users who have already lost their occupation and friendships as a result of the closure of that service.

The Families and Friends have come together to fight the closure and we are seeking public support in our campaign to get Hft and Wiltshire Council to think again.

As you may know from local media coverage the decision to shut down Furlong Close was announced without warning to residents, staff and families in mid-October by the charity Hft which took over the close of five bungalows and associated flatlets from Self Unlimited in 2013. The shock announcement came on the heels of the news that day care services on site would also be closed for good.

Many of the residents, who have severe learning disabilities, many coupled with epilepsy, sight and hearing impediment and severe physical disability, have lived at Furlong Close for more than two decades, some since it opened 28 years ago. They and their families had the expectation that it would be their life-long home and the news that they are now to be forced to abandon their homes and the safety and security of the Close and the village of Rowde is a terrifying prospect.

For some, now in their 50s and 60s, such a traumatic change will seriously damage their mental and physical health. In some cases such a move could shorten lives. The announcement has already left many residents confused, frightened and depressed about what is going to happen to them.

The decision to close has been justified by Hft and Wiltshire Council on the basis that Furlong Close is a "campus-style" site which is not a model of care now favoured by the Care Quality Commission for new developments. This is a completely inadequate justification for proceeding, without consultation, to break up an existing, happy community of highly vulnerable people and force them to leave the homes where they have been comfortably settled for many years.

Nor does it accord with CQC policy which expressly states that it has no wish "to disrupt the lives of people who are currently residing in a service that is not small-scale, provided that the care provided is person-centred."

No one who knows Furlong Close would suggest that it is in any general sense of the word a "campus", nor that its residents are isolated from their local community. They worship, shop, volunteer, eat out, visit the pubs and cafes and work part-time in local businesses.

And yet Hft, with the support of Wiltshire Council and the passive agreement of many of the elected councillors are still intending that Furlong Close be closed down.

The Families and Friends are asking Hft and Wiltshire Council to withdraw the decision and to think again in order to allow all those residents who so choose to continue to live safely and securely within the supportive local community.

If you support our campaign please challenge your local division councillor and those who are candidates in the coming May elections, to declare publically where they stand on this cruel and inhumane policy which is being pursued in their name.

Antonia Field
Chair, Families and Friends of Furlong Close

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