Campaigners rally to reopen dormant Tudor Centre in Abergavenny after council’s decision to permanently close and sell it for housing.
CAMPAIGNERS who want to see a day centre reopened have staged a rally outside the building that has lain dormant for more than three years.
The Tudor Centre in Abergavenny was once a busy hub where people with disabilities could take part in activities, from office paperwork to arts and craft sessions, but in more recent years was used less often and only as an occasional base for the My Day, My Life service for adults with learning disabilities.
The outbreak of the Covid pandemic, in March 2020, forced the centre’s closure but as council buildings and services gradually reopened over the following 18 months the doors to the specially adapted former school building, that has a sensory room and specialist toilets, in Tudor Street remained closed.
Then in November last year Monmouthshire County Council announced it had approved the permanent closure of the site, and its intention to sell it off for housing. It also dismissed day centres as “outdated” as it launched a review of the My Day, My Life service.
That only sparked a backlash with people who used the centre coming together with supporters, including former staff, and others who’d previously used the centre to fight for its future.
That forced the council to apologise for closing the centre without consultation and promise its future wouldn’t be decided until after the My Day, My Life review had reported.
When that report was delivered in April it said the service should have use of a base, in both Abergavenny and Monmouth, but more than three months on from the report the council’s Labour-led cabinet still hasn’t decided the Tudor Centre’s fate.
Instead it says it is considering it along with the Abergavenny Community Centre and the Melville Theatre as a possible location for the base the review has recommended.
Among those who used to use the Tudor Centre as part of My Day, My Life is Kate Bass who attended the rally outside the centre on Monday afternoon, July 31.
She said: “I used to take my laptop in there and I was doing my driving theory test practice. It was good as I would see all my friends and I miss it a lot as there is nowhere else to go.”
Though she attends arts classes at the community centre on Monday, some people aren’t able due to access problems at the building and the continued closure of their previous base has disrupted the social group.
“There’s lots of friends I don’t see because the building has shut, some do come to the community centre but the rest of them I don’t see unless they go to Ebbw Vale on Fridays in a minibus,” she said.
Jenny Powell, who supports reopening the centre, and helps run the group which meets at the Community Centre said it isn’t a suitable replacement for Tudor Street due to access issues, the layout of the building and it is constantly busy with other groups, saying: “There’s not a space there for people to go and sit quietly.”
She said it was a valuable social hub which couldn’t be replaced by the council’s My Mates service which users have to fund activities, such as going out for meals or attending concerts, themselves – and may have to contribute towards staff costs as well.
Sometimes the activities just aren’t to the taste of all users either, as Ms Bass said: “They’ve gone to the cinema in Brynmawr today to see the film Barbie, but that’s not my cup of tea.”
Sarah Griffiths, who has spoken at several council meeting, in support of reopening the Tudor Centre said: “The council is not listening to us. We want the centre open as there is no place else in Abergavenny that’s accessible.”
She is a user of the My Day, My Life service but like many who support the call to reopen the Tudor Centre believes greater use could be made of the building if it was once again opened up to a wider range of the community.
She added: “It’s not just about me there’s other people with mobility issues, who aren’t mentally disabled, and they’re not being taken into account. I think we are going round and round in circles but I will never give up.”
While the review examined the My Day, My Life service others with disabilities haven’t been included.
Sara Chicken’s 27-year-old daughter, Emily, has neurological condition Rett Syndrome, which requires 24/7 care, and had previously used the centre but her mother said she now has to access facilities in neighbouring boroughs.
“Why don’t they look at the wider picture who would access this building in Abergavenny?,” she asked.
As her daughter’s “continuing healthcare” is provided by the NHS, rather than the council’s social services, she was never part of the review process though Mrs Chicken did send her views into the council.
But a further meeting, planned for August 10 where the council will seek the views of service users on which building it should use as a base, won’t include those who aren’t part of My Day, My Life.
Mrs Chicken said she has had to fight for her daughter and for officials to realise the difficulities faced by those caring for people with complex needs: “For someone like Emily, who is limited, you have got to think ahead all the time, such as what if the weather’s bad and that’s why a building in Abergavenny would be good, but it has to be accessible.
“I didn’t go to the last scrutiny meeting as I feel so exhausted by it all and I’m also caring for my dad as well as Emily.”
Among those who’d come to show their support was Cath Lewis of Abergavenny. She said: “My older brother came here years ago, he’s 64 now and lives away, and I look after people as a personal assistant. This place is built for a purpose and is the only place like it.”
She held a poster which listed what the review had found people wanted from a base and highlighted that all of those can be met by the Tudor Centre. The poster stated: “Tudor Street ticks all the boxes”.
It was created by campaigner Owen B Lewis, who had previously worked at the centre before moving away to university in Bristol, who said: “The council told us to wait for the review, we waited for it. It’s obvious the Tudor Centre is the only building that meets all of those and it can be easily opened up now.”
He said a study conducted for the campaign has highlighted accesibility problems with the Melville Theate while concerns have also been raised about access to the Abergavenny Community Centre, both of which were raised by county councillor Sue Rilley at the July scrutiny meeting.
The Labour councillor attended the rally, as did Conservative councillors Jane Lucas and Tony Kear, and she said: “I’m not committed to Tudor Street as a building but three buildings have been shortlisted and two are not accessible. The council needs to provide provision people can get to.”
Cllr Lucas said the council’s Conservative group is supporting the review, the recommendations of which have been accepted in full by the cabinet, while Cllr Kear said he recognised “some capital investment” may be needed to reopen the centre but said: “We need a decision soon so work can get underway as soon as possible.”
Janie McCarthy, who like many of those at the rally had also attended the council’s most recent scrutiny committee which considered the review, said: “It has been closed for over three years and there are people who need it for lots of reasons, including social reasons. Because someone is disabled they shouldn’t be treated as second class citizens, it’s appalling.
“Something like a stroke could happen to any of us and we could be just forgotten about.”
Ms McCarthy said she could remember when some 40 people would regularly use the centre, when it was open to a wider range of people in the community with vulnerabilities, and said she feared the dwindling numbers in recent years suggested it has “been run down. I don’t know if that’s deliberate”.
Monmouthshire’s cabinet is expected to consider locations for bases for the My Day, My Life service in Abergavenny and Monmouth in September.
By BBC LDRS
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