A GROUP of parents say plans to close a communal space at a supported accommodation facility for adults with learning disabilities will have a devastating impact.

Dale Heywood, 56, Colette Robinson, 63, and Anne Narine, 59, told The Standard the area is the “heart of the community” at St Thomas in Ellesmere Port, run by private company 1st Enable.

Their sons Curtis, Michael and Michael have all benefited hugely from having an area to chat, watch TV, cook Sunday lunch and help them live an independent life, they say.

But on July 19 managers from 1st Enable arranged a meeting to let residents know they planned to convert the communal area into a 14th flat.

A poster put up at the facility stated: “We are thinking about closing the communal flat. This is going to be someone else’s home so we can help a new person.”

The parents said they got wind of the plans and attended the meeting, during which a number of residents became visibly upset about what was being proposed.

Jeff Dawson, managing director at 1st Enable, told this newspaper the communal area was being used less frequently as residents became more independent.

But he stressed that the company was now listening to the concerns of parents and carers and was reviewing its plans.

The three mothers said they believed the motive was purely financial as the company stood to collect around £1,300 a month in rent from the extra flat.

And they took issue with the claim that the communal area was becoming less popular.

Mrs Narine, whose 21-year-old son Michael has autism, said: “It’s always in use and there’s a lovely atmosphere there. They all banter with each other and it’s vital for social interaction.

“They have barbecues and birthday parties and all help make Sunday dinner. It’s the heart of the community there and they will be ripping it apart if they take it away.”

St Thomas has been open for a year and is currently home to 13 adults who require varying degrees of support.

Mrs Robinson’s son, Michael Williams, 35, sustained a brain injury following a mountain bike accident.

He requires almost round-the-clock care at a cost of £1,200 per week, funded by the NHS and social services.

“Michael is really happy at St Thomas at the moment,” she said. “He has a good life there and the staff are amazing. But with no communal space it would be like they’re living in jail cells. As a last resort I would move Michael.”

Dr Heywood, who works as a lecturer, said her 28-year-old son Curtis has Down Syndrome and would be devastated to lose the communal space.

“The first time your disabled child leaves home you are a quivering wreck,” she said. “I was petrified he wouldn’t adjust well but he has absolutely thrived. He’s been incredibly happy.

“He loves the communal space as it’s a place to show off! Without it they would only ever see each other when they pass in the corridors.”

The women said they and their sons had recently been filmed for a Channel 4 documentary which included footage of residents happily using the communal space at St Thomas.

If the area was converted into a flat then the programme would now be completely misrepresentative of the services provided there, they said.

MP Justin Madders has been notified of the issue and wrote a letter to 1st Enable requesting that he be invited to any future meeting on the plans.

He wrote: “I have been approached by a family member of one of your service users who informs me that there is disquiet among residents in regards to these proposals.

“They expressed concern about the impact the removal of a communal area could have on residents, and I share this position.”

In a statement, Mr Dawson of 1st Enable said: “The communal space in the scheme is an empty flat. We decided to review how it is used as over the last year it has been used less by residents as their independence has increased and the fact that with a small amount of work it could create another much needed home for a new resident.

“There is also a financial factor as we are charged rent on this empty flat by the building owners that we aren’t able to recover as it is not let to a resident and benefit rules mean that the costs cannot be shared between the existing residents. This reduces the overall level of funds that we have available to deliver our services.

“When we raised this review, some parents expressed concerns so we immediately put any plans for changing the use of the empty flat on hold so we could explore other options. We have continued to consult with and listen to our residents about alternative approaches to communal space and we’re holding further meetings with them and parents next week.”