Call to allow new home for vulnerable youngsters

Harry O'Neill who having lived in a childrens home himself, is supporting the new childrens home planned for Pinkie in Musselburgh. Picture: Toby Williams
Harry O'Neill who having lived in a childrens home himself, is supporting the new childrens home planned for Pinkie in Musselburgh. Picture: Toby Williams
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A student who grew up in care has appealed to local residents not to block the construction of a house for vulnerable youngsters over fears it would have a “detrimental impact” on “homes and families”.

Harry O’Neill, 21, spoke at a public meeting in Musselburgh yesterday evening which was organised after hundreds of residents voiced their anger at the plan for a residential home at ­Lewisvale Park.

Proposals for the two-storey unit, which would provide a home for young people in care, sparked concerns it would cause a spike in antisocial behaviour, as well as increasing traffic and cutting off views of green space.

Student nurse Mr O’Neill, who spent four years in a similar unit growing up in West Dunbartonshire before getting on to a degree programme at Queen Margaret University, claimed “closed-minded” attitudes stemmed from not knowing youngsters in care, and added: “Give us a chance”.

The meeting was organised by Colin Beattie MSP, who said local residents were dismayed when letters were posted to them in December outlining the plans, with information he claimed was “misleading”.

Mr Beattie, who sits on the Scottish Parliament committee which gave its backing to additional support for young people in care last year, said: “It looked quite a formidable construction, in terms of the footprint and the two-metre high walls around it. It looked like Fort Knox, so I understand why they were concerned.

“Residents need to decide whether to object to this based on proper information, not the slightly misleading information they’ve had until now. It’s got to go someplace, and no matter where you put it, there’s going to be a bit of concern until it settles in.”

Speaking to the Evening News ahead of the meeting, Mr O’Neill said: “I just want to go along as an example of a care leaver to prove there are examples of ‘good’ care leavers, if we’re given a chance. We’re not all the same as the picture that people have in their heads.

“I grew up in the exact same setting. It will look like a normal house, not anything dire looking. It’s not an ideal home to live in, but it’s a place where young people need to go. This place wouldn’t be built if there wasn’t a need for it.”

An East Lothian Council spokesman said residents could now comment on a planning application for the house, and apologised to anyone living nearby who wasn’t initially informed about the plans.

He said: “We very much hope [they] will support this much-needed project and want to hear their views on how the new home can become part of the Lewisvale community.”