Joy as disabled home is secured

Good news: Barry Illsley, Linda Christmas and Dave Hoose (front) at Oaklands, the Leonard Cheshire Home, near Garstang
Good news: Barry Illsley, Linda Christmas and Dave Hoose (front) at Oaklands, the Leonard Cheshire Home, near Garstang

Supporters of Oaklands, the ‘forgotten’ Leonard Cheshire Home, Garstang, have welcomed a commitment by the disabled charity’s bosses to keep the home open - after almost a decade of uncertainty.

New manager, Linda Christmas, revealed the question mark which has been hanging over the home for nine years is at long last over. A £350,000 revamp has begun.

Home owners, Leonard Cheshire Disability, has apologised for the uncertainty, and is pledging commitment to Oaklands, its 25 severely disabled residents and its 60 full and part-time employees.

In an effort to re-ignite the community links between the home and Garstang, this week new manager Mrs Christmas stressed: “We are not closing!”

She said: “Oaklands needs the support of the community, any facility like this needs support. It is not just about fundraising, it is also about social inclusion.”

And, in a comment on the uncertainty over the past few years, she added: “I hope we can put the past behind us.”

Since Oaklands’ opened in a large house at Barnacre in 1969 local people have raised thousands of pounds for the home, though in more recent years, because of the fears that it had either closed or was being closed the community links have been largely severed.

One of the home’s staunchest supporters, Garstang resident Barry Illsley, said he was concerned that many people thought Oaklands had either closed or was in the process of closing.

Mr Illsley, whose daughter Louise died in 2008 after living at Oaklands for 10 years, said: “The decision to keep it open is the greatest thing that has happened to this place.”

Oaklands residents have also welcomed the news.

Mr Dave Hoose, who has lived at Oaklands for 30 years, said: “In my opinion it is not before time. Very little maintenance work had been done from when they said it was closing down.”

He added charity bosses had been repeatedly asked to show committment to Oaklands “and bring the place back up to a decent standard again.”

Garstang businessman Damian Carr, who was involved in the former support group in the 1990s said: “I am delighted for the residents. It is great the facilities are being brought up to date.

“I am sure a new support group will be formed. Oaklands is an asset to Garstang.”

A public meeting may be called to re-launch a support group for Oaklands in Garstang, though no date has been fixed.

A spokesman for Leonard Cheshire said: “A decision to close Oaklands was never taken but was considered many years ago.

“We constantly review our services as part of our normal work to ensure we support disabled people in the best possible way.

“We are sorry if there appears to have been uncertainty about the future of Oaklands in the past.

“We would like to reassure everyone there are no plans on the table to close the service and we would be happy to meet the people concerned to discuss this further if they wish.

“Although there has been a delay for various reasons we are now in a position to invest money into refurbishment.

“We are committed to a programme of investment in the Oaklands service to continue support for disabled people in the area.

“We are finding that demand for places at Oaklands is increasing and we are running at near capacity. We are planning a multi-phased £300,000 plus refurbishment of Oaklands to improve the building, which dates back to 1904.”

The programme will start with major capital works on the building with a new roof and windows (internal and external) which has already started.

This will be followed by more external works to enhance the lives of the residents with better access and facilities.

The spokesman said: “We are planning this in a phased way to minimise disruption to residents and neighbours .

“We are grateful to the local community for their fundraising and hope they will join us to celebrate the refurbishment when complete.”