Monday, January 3, 2011

British disabled people celebrate reopening of their day centre in Leicester

From This is Leicester, UK:

A group of disabled people said it will be a "dream come true" to return to their day centre tomorrow after campaigning for six months to get it reopened.

The group met at the Douglas Bader Centre, in St Matthews, Leicester, until it was shut after a fire safety inspection last June.

Without a permanent base, users wrote letters and staged protests – leading the city council to spend about £120,000 upgrading the centre, in Malabar Road.

One user called the renovation and return to the building "the best gift we could ever receive".

The group, some of whom have been unable to meet up since the centre closed, will be reunited tomorrow.

Wheelchair user John Hargrave, 68, of Beaumont Leys, has been attending the centre for 10 years after suffering spinal damage.

He said: "I have been dreaming about this day for months and months. I think I speak for everyone when I say I am excited about getting back.

"Going back to the centre is the best Christmas present we could ask for.

"All the users have stuck together through this – I think we are closer because of it.

"I can't wait to get in there and have a look round and see what's changed."

Users of the Douglas Bader Centre have a range of physical or sensory disabilities, and the venue offers much-needed support and care.

The group has been temporarily housed in the Brite Centre, in Braunstone, but members said the building did not suit their complex needs.

They lobbied councillors by staging a protest outside the Town Hall in August. They found out in October the city council would be renovating their centre and work started immediately.

John spearheaded the campaign for its refurbishment and reopening. He said: "It has been great to work with the city council in doing this – we have opened up lines of communications with their officers and it's been great. We are very grateful."

The city council said around £120,000 was spent meeting fire safety requirements, and that users were planning an official opening celebration in February.

A city council spokeswoman said: "We're very pleased to confirm all of the work was completed as planned just before Christmas, and we are all looking forward to the service users moving back on January 4."

Stroke victim Marie Ratcliffe, 53, from Saffron Lane, had been attending the centre four times a week for 10 years.

She said: "It has been hard going over the last few months, but we have got what we want in the end by sticking together and that's what matters.

"I would like to thank everybody who helped us.

"It will be strange going back – it seems like a long time since we were there – but I will get used to it quickly again and I can't wait to see my friends again, some who I haven't seen since the Douglas Bader Centre closed."