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August 31, 2010

Sign of things to come?

Earlier this year, cash strapped Highland Council earmarked the Assynt Centre, a respite and day centre for the elderly, for closure. In what may become a familiar pattern across the country, local people rallied round because they felt the services provided by the Centre were so crucial to their community. This month a new community enterprise formally takes over the running of the Centre

THE Assynt Centre, earmarked for closure earlier this year as a result of swingeing local authority budget cuts, has been given a new lease of life

A newly established community group, Community Care Assynt, will take over the running of the unit from the cash-strapped Highland Council on Wednesday, September 1.

And an Open Day will be held at the Lochinver centre, which provides care for the elderly, next Thursday, 26 August, to celebrate the handover and the renewed hopes for its future under new management.  Chairman of Community Care Assynt, Dr David Slator, a GP in Lairg, said: “We’re all very excited about this and the chance we now have of developing the service.

“Under community management we hope to be able to offer a more flexible and inclusive service, responding to the particular needs of our remote community.”Social work chief Bob Silverwood this week praised the community for their commitment to the unit.

Highland councillors took the decision to close the centre at their February meeting when they set the budget for the next financial year. It was the culmination of five years of uncertainty surrounding the centre which cost the local authority around £250,000 a year to run.

Social work chiefs axed its two residential beds in September 2005 but agreed to continue providing a 24/7 respite service.

However, in November 2006 that service was cut back to week days, apart from six weekends a year.

A dedicated action group was set up in 2007, chaired by Dr Slator, and a campaign was launched to reinstate the services.

Since the closure decision was taken, the action group has worked with Highland Council’s social work department and with local community enterprise group 040 (Older People for Older People) to try to secure the centre’s future.

Older People for Older People is a EU Northern Periphery Programme funded project which aims to help older people help themselves in remote and rural communities.

Dr Slator said: “From the moment the Assynt Centre came under threat of closure, the community rallied behind our group and supported us to set up Community Care Assynt. We’ve received invaluable support from Kate Stephen of the O4O project.”

Community Care Assynt are now negotiating with Trust Housing, which owns the centre building, to take it over. And under a Service Level Agreement, Highland Council has now agreed to provide £85,000 a year towards the running of the centre over the next three years. It is hoped to source additional funding from other organisations.

Initially the new company expect to run the unit as a drop-in centre, providing lunch and other activities.

Plans for the future include taking over the running of the home care service in the area and possibly again providing residential care beds.

Bob Silverwood, area community care manager for Highland Council’s social work service, said he welcomed the development and was particularly impressed by the spirit and commitment displayed by the community.

040 project worker Kate Stevens also praised the community, saying: “What they are doing is amazing and an excellent example of what people can do to look after their older members of the community and provide social support locally.”

East Sutherland and Edderton ward councillor Linda Munro said: “All three ward councillors are supportive of Assynt and we have been since we were elected in 2008. We know it to be a strong, robust and able community and have every expectation that Assynt will lead the way for the Highland in this newly developed service for the elderly.”

Fellow ward councillor Robbie Rowantree said: “What would have been a closure has now become hopefully the beginning of an ever-growing success story in Assynt.”

Assynt Community council secretary Ellen Moxley commented: “We deeply regret Highland Council’s decision to close the Assynt centre which provided respite beds for the elderly who will now have to travel over 30 miles for residential care.

“However, our community as usual has risen to the challenge and voted for a social enterprise project using the centre to provide day time support and a resource for the whole community.

“Highland council is giving us funding for three years but we will be relying heavily on donations and voluntary help and support.”

And Assynt community development worker, Clive Sheppard who is also director of Community Care Assynt, stated: “Whilst initially there was bitter disappointment over the services provided at the Assynt Centre falling victim to public sector cuts, with the formation of Community Care Assynt there is a new enthusiasm for creating community rooted services based at the Centre.

“The service level agreement with Highland Council to provide a lunch club and to run a community transport facility has provided a foundation upon which an exciting and expansive business plan will re-install the centre as a hub for many sections of our community.”