THE shock announcement that a ‘lifeline’ Bangor centre for adults with learning disabilities is to close its doors at the end of March has left local families reeling. 

Bosses at the Action Mental Health Promote Centre told parents this week that the closure decision ‘had not been taken lightly’ but was due to ‘budgetary constraints’ and was ‘really out of AMH’s control’. 

Concerns have been expressed that staff currently working at the centre will be made redundant and will not be offered alternative employment within the charity.

Parents from across the borough have slammed Monday afternoon’s ‘out of the blue’ email as ‘cold hearted’ and said it has left them fearful for their children’s futures, their happiness and mental well-being. 

These determined families have now formed a working group and won the support of North Down MP Stephen Farry and assemblyman Alex Easton in their campaign to fight for this vital service for their children. 

The Enterprise Road centre provides training for over 50 adults with learning difficulties, all of whom have been ‘devastated’ by the closure announcement; with many parents believing it will be nearly impossible to find alternative places for their children. 

In the correspondence announcing their closure decision, David Babbington, AMH chief executive, said their contract to provide the Promote Day Opportunities Service in Bangor on behalf of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust would end in just over two months time. 

He said that AMH had provided this ‘much loved’ service on behalf of the trust since 2008 but would no longer be able to do so due to ‘ongoing pressures being felt across the voluntary sector and wider health sector’.

The charity boss said they were working closely with the trust to ensure the ‘least disruption’ to their clients, families and carers during this ‘difficult period’.

He stressed both organisations understood the impact the closure would have and said trust key workers and AMH staff would support their clients as they moved to alternative services. 

However local families have expressed fears that there are ‘no’ spaces at any of the alternative facilities in the borough, with travel further afield to Downpatrick and Newcastle ‘just not possible’ for these vulnerable adults. 

Bangor mum Mandy McCreight, whose 21 year-old son Ben has been attending AMH Promote for the past 18 months, described the closure decision as a ‘massive blow to the whole learning disability community’.

Mandy, who also volunteers at the centre, has set up a working group with other concerned parents; together they have reached out to their local elected representatives and are calling for meetings with both the trust and charity.

She said: “We are losing the biggest disability day centre in the borough. I also am a volunteer there and I am gutted for all the clients as I know how much they all love it there. Without places like Promote, learning disability parents don’t know where we would be. 

“My husband Davy and I now have no idea where on earth Ben will go next as we know how difficult it was to find this provision for him. There were very few places available 18 months ago and now there are going to be 50 clients fighting for new placement.  Davy and I are now worried that Ben will now be at home with us 24/7 and this isn’t fair on Ben as his carers with high care needs of our own we are not sure how we will cope.”

Bangor mum Lucinda Hanna, whose 31 year-old daughter Rebekah has been attending the AMH Promote centre for the past 13 years, criticised the charity’s closure email as ‘cold-hearted’.

Voicing her fears about the lack of suitable places for adults with complex needs, she said: “There have been so many cut backs and issues, this is another nail in the coffin for adult support.” 

Andrea Hegarty, a Bangor parent whose son Corey has been attending the ‘lifeline’ centre for the past six years said she was ‘really angry’ at how the closure announcement was handled.

The concerned mum said: “It almost flies in the face of the nurturing environment of the staff who work at the centre. I am shocked at how this has been done, that they thought this would be a good idea. It hasn’t been thought through.”

She said there were important questions that the families wanted answers to saying: “What is the funding situation? Who can help? Is this [the funding] something we can raise as parents? We will do whatever we can to keep our children there.”