A GROUP of parents are celebrating after a care company performed a U-turn on plans to close a communal space at a supported accommodation facility for adults with learning disabilities.

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.

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.

They approached the Standard asking for the issue to be publicised and a subsequent online article was read by hundreds of people.

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

He also stressed the company paid rent on the building and was losing around £1,300 a month by having a permanently vacant flat.

But following a second meeting on Monday (August 12), which was also attended by MP Justin Madders, the company said it would not pursue plans to close the communal area.

Mrs Robinson, whose son Michael Williams, 35, sustained a brain injury following a mountain bike accident, said she was delighted with the outcome.

“It was a complete turnaround,” she said. “We had a lot of parents show up and the MP too.

“We got everything out in the open, all of our grievances, and Jeff and his team took everything on board. We felt like they really listened to us this time and the idea of losing the communal area was completely scrapped.

“I think it was down to the publicity and we’d like to thank the paper and also Justin Madders for attending the meeting. We'd also like to thank the staff at St Thomas who do an amazing job.”

In a statement, Mr Dawson said today (Tuesday, August 13): "Since our decision to suspend the original proposals a few weeks ago we have now met with the parents as planned who were accompanied by Justin Madders, MP for whom we welcomed his attendance.

"It was clear and pleasing for us to hear the value placed on the communal area and therefore have decided to shelve any plans or alternatives to removing the communal area. We also thank the parents for sharing their perspective of how well our staff have been working with the people we support. Our staff continue to be our biggest asset and once again 1st Enable staff have been found to be excellent in working in an often difficult but rewarding job.

"We will continue to work with parents, staff and most importantly the people we support to ensure we drive up the quality of the service even higher."

The three mothers had previously taken 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."

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 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.”

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!”

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 be completely misrepresentative of the services provided there, they said.