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Eric Gray campaigner: ‘I’m just so happy’

Campaigners for a new Eric Gray centre were delighted with the decision. Photo courtesy of Shetland Special Needs Action Group.

THE CAMPAIGN for a new building to replace the Eric Gray care centre moved a step closer to reality as councillors gave the project their blessing on Wednesday.

At the last meeting of the Full Council before the summer recess, members unanimously endorsed the decision of two committees last week to push ahead with a £5.6 million purpose-built centre for adults with learning disabilities and complex needs.

More than a dozen representatives of the Shetland Special Needs Action Group (SSNAG) gave a warm round of applause after the decision was waved through, with some approaching councillors Cecil Smith and Allison Duncan to shake their hands.

Smith, chairman of the local authority’s social services committee, has set a “rigorous” timetable for the project which could see construction work on the former hockey pitch at Seafield commence in 2015.

The new “hub” will bring together day care services currently divided between the nearby Eric Gray centre and council premises at Gressy Loan next to the Anderson High School.

One of the campaigners, Rebecca Sinclair, said she was delighted with the news and wanted to say a “massive thank you to all the councillors, officials, parents and supporters”.

“I’m just so happy. Faith in humanity totally restored,” she said. “I’m so chuffed for all the current Eric Gray users and the knowledge that upcoming users are going to have what they need is just the best feeling. This is a really good day!”

Social services committee chairman Cecil Smith has been instrumental in getting the project back on track since Christmas.
Back in December Smith stepped in as users’ families voiced “sadness and distress” amid fears that the plans were falling victim to spending cutbacks.

There were particular fears surrounding talk of moving the Clickimin caravan site to the Seafield site set aside for a replacement Eric Gray.

On Wednesday Smith repeated his thanks to the families for their “understanding and patience” over the past six months, which had “helped us get here today”.

The SIC now intends to borrow the money needed to build the new centre – though it will also explore “all avenues” for external funding.

Responding to a question from councillor Vaila Wishart, community health and social care director Simon Bokor-Ingram said there was “no reason we can’t go back and look” at the design of the building, while ensuring that it contains 1,800 square metres of floor space.

Capital programme manager Robert Sinclair said that, while the physical size of the building was “the main thing that governs the cost” there was “a certain amount of leeway on the detailed work”.