Fresh calls have been made to save a Chichester day centre for adults with learning disabilities from closure.
The Wrenford Centre in Terminus Road could shut as part of a West Sussex County Council review of its in-house adult social care services.
The draft proposals would instead see users of the centre access services at the Chestnuts in Bognor Regis and Judith Adams in Chichester, both currently running services for elderly residents.
The changes, which the county council says will see the same level of service provided, were discussed by members of the West Sussex Health and Adult Social Care Committee on Friday (June 22).
Parents and relatives of Wrenford users were in attendance alongside campaigners from Don’t Cut Us Out.
Although the building is in need of renovation the purpose-built facilities, staff and activities available at the Wrenford Centre have been praised as ‘amazing’.
Among those in the public gallery were Sarah Welch and her 19-year-old son Matthew, who has learning difficulties and studies four days a week at Chichester College but spends the remaining weekday at the Wrenford Centre.
Sarah, who lives in Barnham, said: “We love the centre and we want to keep it open.”
Sue Paterson, a single mum from Bosham, is the carer for her 22-year-old son Edward, who has severe learning difficulties and also goes to the Wrenford.
She said: “It will be devastating. Without the Wrenford we would have nothing.”
She described how the centre allows her to go to work and provides Edward with an opportunity to socialise and try a range of different activities.
Overall in-house social care services are currently provided across 21 premises, with 900 users, more than 500 staff, a county-wide shared lives service with 90 paid carers and a current budget of £11m a year.
Underinvestment in buildings is acknowledged by the county council, with an estimated £15m required over the next five years for business as usual maintenance.
Proposals would reduce the number of locations for in-house services from 21 to 11.
Between £2-3m has been earmarked in WSCC’s capital programme to ensure the remaining day opportunity sites can cater for varying needs and are both sustainable and accessible in the long term.
New sites to replace services run from Tozer House in Chichester and Bognor Regis’ Hammonds, both residential homes for adults with learning disabilities, are due to be determined.
Meanwhile Marjorie Cobby House in Selsey, which provides a reablement and short-term residential service, would be disposed of with services relocated elsewhere.
Jana Burton, interim director of adults’ services, said they were ensuring services were fit for the 21st century, increasing prevention and supporting people to maximise their opportunity for independence.
Service redesign would lead to staff being retrained, while families of users would be involved in the design and reconfiguration of buildings.
County councillor James Walsh, vice-chairman of HASC, raised concerns about co-locating learning disability and dementia services together and the effect of changes on existing relationships between staff and clients.
He also asked if the changes would lead to increased travel times for service users.
More than half of Wrenford attendees live in Bognor Regis and would have a shorter journey to Chestnuts, according to officers.
Frances Russell, from Healthwatch West Sussex, argued the proposals had been ‘rushed’ and while there was support for the general policy the solutions appeared to be ‘financially driven and very buildings based’.
She described how adults with learning disabilities were a particularly vulnerable group that would always need a specialist service.
Kate O’Kelly, a county and district councillor, asked if there was any evidence of mixing customer groups working in other parts of the country.
On the consultation of proposals held in May, she said: “I think this has been too short and too large and too broad and too vague.”
She described how volunteers in her patch organised ‘fantastic’ day services which helped keep residents out of nursing homes and how more services were needed, especially in rural areas.
Officers said they had been engaging stakeholders since 2016, while the implementation of changes would be spread out over a five-year period.
Barry Poland, operations manager for provider services, said: “It’s not all about savings it’s investing for the future as well.”
County councillor Charles Petts said it would be ‘naive to assume financials are not driving this’ and called on the new system to be dynamic.
Ms Burton said: “It does need to be dynamic.”
Amanda Jupp, cabinet member for adults and health, said she had taken on board concerns about the timeline for changes and she was listening to what people were saying.