Parents Speak Of Relief After Centre For Disabled Students Is Kept Open

Expert Lawyers Intervention Keeps Plaxtole House Up and Running After Challenging Closure Plans as being Unlawful

15.08.2012

The parents of disabled students who rely on the ‘invaluable support’ of a local residential centre that was due to be closed down last month have spoken of their relief after the successful outcome of a legal challenge.

Public law experts at Irwin Mitchell argued that the proposed closure of the centre was unlawful and now plans have been put in place to keep the centre open.

King’s Lynn-based Plaxtole House, part of the College of West Anglia, was set to close as part of a £1.6m package of cutbacks at the college in July this year after governors launched a consultation back in March.

The worried parents of two long-term Plaxtole House residents contacted public law experts at Irwin Mitchell who successfully challenged the lawfulness of the consultation process after arguing that users were at risk of being left without alternative care and had not been given enough notice and information about the closure.

Plaxtole House provides a learning facility and supported accommodation for around 24 young people with physical and learning difficulties aged between 16 and 24, giving residents a unique opportunity to experience independent living with their peers in a supportive environment as a ‘stepping stone’ to future independent living. In addition around thirty other young people, who cannot be educated effectively within the college, use it on a non-residential basis.

Following lengthy negotiations the college agreed on a fresh proposal allowing Plaxtole House to remain open.

Anne-Marie Irwin, a specialist at Irwin Mitchell in fighting on behalf of people who feel they have been unfairly treated by decisions to cut public services, said: “This is fantastic news for my two clients, their families and the other users of Plaxtole House. The new agreement means the centre will stay open so that they can continue to benefit from the vital services which have helped them develop so much over the past year.

“We represent a 21-year-old girl with Down’s syndrome and a 20-year-old man with cerebral palsy who both rely enormously on the facilities at Plaxtole House to provide the support they need. Both were faced with returning to live at home with their parents, who were concerned that the exceptional progress they had both made at Plaxtole House would come to end which would have a devastating impact on their education and ability to socialise with their peers.

“We discovered that the college’s own Equality and Diversity Policy states that ‘it is the duty of the College of West Anglia to provide adequate and appropriate learning opportunities for all people over the age of 16 years within its district’ and we argued  that the closure of Plaxtole House would have meant the college was not acting in accordance with its own policy. We were delighted to see that a vital public service will now continue to be provided for our vulnerable clients.”

The main partners who will be working to keep Plaxtole open are Freebridge Community Housing, the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk, The Benjamin Foundation (a specialist supported housing charity) and the College of West Anglia.

Caroline Smith, mum to Jonathan who has cerebral palsy and a mild learning disability, said: “Plaxtole House offers invaluable support to Jonathan and all the other users. If it had been closed down it would have had a devastating effect on all those vulnerable people who rely on it.

“Jonathan stays at Plaxtole House three days a week and he’s given invaluable support and taught everyday tasks such as how to look after his belongings, use household appliances and to plan ahead which means he worries less.

“His social and emotional skills have developed more than I could have ever imagined since he joined and if it had closed his behaviour would have gone rapidly downhill.

“We are so relieved that Plaxtole House can stay open and offer the same excellent services as it helps Jonathan and many others to have some independence and a social life.”

Sophie* lives at Plaxtole House three days a week while she studies at the college and spends the rest of the time at home with her parents. Her mum said the closure of Plaxtole would have limited her educational opportunities and ability to be independent.

Sophie’s mum said: “Sophie has thrived at Plaxtole House since she became a resident and when we received a letter back in March to say it was going to be shut down we were absolutely devastated. The house allows Sophie to be able to taste life independently in a safe setting where she can socialise with friends.

“Her life skills have come on so much since she was there and we knew if she could no longer use the facilities and have the support her progression would fall back to where it was years ago and she’d become isolated.

“We were desperate to keep Plaxtole House open and are delighted with the result as it is simply the perfect place for her.  We believe that if we did not have the backing of Irwin Mitchell, Plaxtole House would have closed. 

“The college was forced to think again and seriously evaluate their decision. The solution adopted is an affirmation of the fact that as citizens of this country we all have rights and responsibilities and that there are good organisations, professions and people willing to stand up for those who cannot do so for themselves.

*Sophie is not her real name