Charity agrees to meet with parties about future use of Burgess Hill disability centre

The Disabilities Trust said it is keen to hear from organisations which can propose ‘tangible, practical and sustainable plans’ for the future use of Ernest Kleinwort Court in Burgess Hill.

The disability centre in Oakenfield – which provides accommodation and support for people with physical disabilities – is to close in October due to a recent ‘inadequate’ CQC rating and an ongoing struggle to recruit staff.

Residents and supporters campaigning outside Ernest Kleinwort Court in Burgess Hill. Picture: Steve Robards

Residents and supporters campaigning outside Ernest Kleinwort Court in Burgess Hill. Picture: Steve Robards

The Rev Trevor Beckett, who is campaigning against the decision, met with the CEO and director of strategy at the charity last week.

He said: “The meeting offered no solutions but did help to clarify the issues. They confirmed that no meaningful external consultation took place prior to the decision to close.

“They also confirmed it is not about money or selling off the centre but say they want to see it used to benefit those with disabilities in future.

“They say the mix of residents’ needs is wrong which has a knock on effect in attracting the right staff. They say they have tried everything and admit it is their failure.

Closure is not something on which the Trust would consult, although we are of course willing to talk to local groups to hear their views.

Sarah Clifford, director of transformation at The Disabilities Trust

“This being the case I pointed out that as there was no prior consultation and if it’s not about money or selling the buildings then it makes sense to take up the offer to bring a wide group of interested parties together to turn things around for those residents that want to stay and then make a more gradual transition towards their future strategic use of the buildings.

“I further pointed out that not to take up this offer would be to punish the current group of residents for the sake of some, as yet, unknown strategic use of the site.

“I therefore called for the suspension of the closure. They stated that they would not do this as in their opinion it would create a more unstable situation for residents and staff.

“They were, however, willing to take up the offer to meet with a wider group of interested parties if by next week we can clarify the tangible benefits that this group might bring to the future running of EKC.

“I agreed to this whilst pointing that the tangible benefits were more likely to arise from a wide ranging discussion with the Trust.”

Sarah Clifford, director of transformation at the Trust, responded to Mr Beckett’s comments.

She said: “We had a cordial and constructive meeting with reverend Beckett and we are keen to hear from organisations which can propose tangible, practical and sustainable plans for the future use of the site.

“We are in close touch with West Sussex County Council and other funding authorities about the closure; if councils or similar bodies believe there is a ‘gap’ in care services for disabled people with highly complex needs in this part of Sussex, we’d be pleased to discuss ideas for the future use of the site with them.

“We did not say that the mix of residents is ‘wrong’ per se but that people that the Trust has admitted to EKC have a broad range of care needs – some have highly complex conditions and require very specialist and intensive staff support, others have less complex needs and could potentially live in a flat or house with shared staffing.

“Despite the Trust’s best intentions, attracting the staffing to meet all these needs in one centre has proven challenging.

“We understand the level of local concern about the closure but EKC is not a community or day centre – it is a residential service owned and run by the Trust which is registered with the CQC to provide 24-hour support to people with disabilities; the care is largely paid for by local councils or other public sector bodies.

“Closure is not something on which the Trust would consult, although we are of course willing to talk to local groups to hear their views.

“Additionally, the Trust is not a public body and is therefore not subject to judicial review or Freedom of Information legislation as has been suggested.”

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