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New Eric Gray Centre back on track

The existing Eric Gray Centre at Kantersted, which is now likely to be replaced with a brand new building at Seafield

A MAJOR step forwards in providing adequate facilities for adults with learning disabilities and complex needs has been greeted with huge relief by families who have campaigned for more than a decade on the issue.

On Thursday Shetland Islands Council’s social services committee voted unanimously to back plans to build a new day care centre on the site of the hockey pitch at Lerwick’s Seafield.

The decision came on the back of three months of “sleepless nights” after the alarm was raised when it emerged the council was considering allowing the site to be used for camping and caravans last December.

Shetland’s existing facilities in Gressy Loan for young adults are at capacity and the Eric Gray Centre, which caters for 50 individuals, is expected to be full by next year.

Meanwhile the number of adults with learning disabilities, autistic spectrum disorders and complex needs is expected to grow by more than 80 per cent over the next 20 years.

Sandwick resident Leslie Smith, whose 30 year old son has cerebral palsy, has been campaigning for the past 17 years for Shetland’s care facilities to be improved.

Addressing the social services committee on behalf of a working group of councillors, officials and users, he said his son had been stuck in Bell’s Brae primary school until he was 20 because of the shortfall.

Plans to build a new Eric Gray Centre at Seafield that were approved five years ago were put on the back burner when the council decided to impose drastic spending cuts to avoid long term bankruptcy last year.

However families were stunned when they heard news the Seafield site could be used to replace Lerwick’s campsite that was being lost with the construction of a new secondary school at Clickimin.

SIC social services committee chairman Cecil Smith

Their shock and the determination of social services committee chairman Cecil Smith revived the original plans.

Leslie Smith’s address on Thursday persuaded councillors that a new build centre was the best option despite the £5.9 million building cost, and the extra £516,000 a year it would cost the council to run.

After the meeting he said a huge amount of pressure had been lifted from the families affected.

“We are absolutely elated. At last we have a way forward that we can focus on and we have to thank Cecil Smith for getting this back on track and giving it some forward motion because it had just been stagnating,” he said.

“This new building is going to allow so much freedom to man-manage the safety of the individual and the development of staff.”

Cecil Smith said there was more work to be done to bring the costs up to date and to work out how they were going to be financed at a time of austerity, which he trusted would be presented to the council in June.

He said the presentation from the working group had swung Thursday’s vote and praised the hard work officers had put in to bring the report to the meeting.

“It’s been a good day,” he said.