Fight to save ‘lifeline’ Westerlea centre for disabled kids from axe

Campaigners outside Westerlea Early Years group. Picture: Jon Savage
Campaigners outside Westerlea Early Years group. Picture: Jon Savage
Have your say

PARENTS of severely disabled children are battling to save a lifeline support service after being told it has to close for lack of funding.

Mums and dads were shocked when charity Capability Scotland announced it was shutting its Westerlea Early Years service which runs specialist respite, hydrotherapy, music and sensory sessions for nought to five-year-olds as well as social groups for the children and their families.

Around 50 families from across the Capital use the service, based at the charity’s headquarters in Ellersly Road, Murrayfield, which have just been sold.

And the campaigners say there is nowhere else in Edinburgh offering similar support.

Penny Phillips, whose three-year-old daughter Tabitha goes to Westerlea about three times a week, said: “There is no other facility that makes provision for children with special needs like this in Edinburgh.

“Everything else has been cut. This is the last thing that gave us support. It’s a lifeline for parents like myself who have children with Down’s Syndrome or additional support needs.

“When you have a child born like that it is a very isolating experience. It means a lot to be able to go and meet other parents and realise you are not alone, that you all feel the same way and often have the same problems and emotions.

“It’s really important to be able to go to a group where your children can be themselves and not be stared at – everyone just accepts everyone as they are.

“For them to close that is really devastating.”

The parents have been told the service will close by September 30. Five staff are to be made redundant.

Ms Phillips said Capability Scotland had told them council funding had been cut and the service was not viable.

She said a meeting with the charity on Friday had failed to give any reassurances.

“Quite a few mothers of young babies were crying – they are just beginning to get their heads round the fact they are going to have to spend their whole lives fighting for their children and their rights.

“Nicola Sturgeon has made big statements about how the early years are so important, but here’s a vital service being cut. It doesn’t really add up.”

She said both parents and staff were keen to explore all options to continue the support offered by Westerlea, including shrinking the service or charging parents.

“One staff member said she was even prepared to take a huge pay cut so the service could continue because it is so important to her.

“It’s really sad that this is happening. I find it hard to believe there is not the money for Westerlea to continue in some way.”

A petition to save Westerlea has attracted around 2500 signatures in a week and the campaigners are lobbying politicians to support their fight.

The city council said it had awarded Capability Scotland £62,000 for the coming year – 95 per cent of the amount it previously received. The reduction was in line with cuts imposed on other organisations funded by council grants to third parties.

A spokesman said: “We have been talking to them for the past few months to see how we can help them continue to deliver the service and were surprised a couple of weeks ago when they wrote and said it was closing. We will continue to work with them on this.”

A spokesman for Capability Scotland said the decision to close the early years service had been taken reluctantly.

He said: “The service has provided high-quality, much-needed support over many years and is greatly valued by those who have accessed it. However, we have been unable to secure sufficient funding to continue and there is simply no viable alternative. We appreciate the impact this may have on our customers and staff, and are doing everything possible to minimise this..”