Hft (previously Home Farm Trust) opened up a centre for people with learning disabilities in 1982 at Milton Heights, near Abingdon. It comprised several houses, and a day centre. Since then Hft has become the gold standard in supportive independent living in this area. Many of us know people who use the services there.
(Thanks to Google Maps for the satellite view)
According to independent research commissioned by Hft the number of social care providers who say they have been forced to cut support for vulnerable adults has doubled in the last 12 months as a direct result of financial pressures.
Billy Davis, Public Affairs and Policy Manager for Hft, said: ‘A lack of alternatives has left providers with no choice but to make decisions culturally at odds with the way they want to run their organisations, such as handing back services and, ironically, shedding staff in the midst of a sector-wide recruitment crisis.’
That is just what is happening at Milton Heights now. Hft are having to hand back services in a way that is culturally at odds with the way they want to run their organisation. They have announced Milton Heights is to close and are shedding staff after a recruitment drive. The day centre is to close in May 2020, the houses in April 2020.
The Flexible Support Day Centre at Milton Heights provides support for many individuals. Flexible means there a lots of different activities available in different areas: music, computers, art and craft, cookery, pottery, a larger room for any number of activities such as dancing and drama. The activities encourage people to learn new skills and live as independently as possible.
About 25 individuals also live in houses at Milton Heights. Hft / Home Farm Trust was originally a charity set up by parents to provide supportive homes for their offspring when they were no longer able. Some parents thought they were assured a place for life.
It is considered best practise these days to move people into independent houses in the community rather than have larger groupings. Hft has been doing that as opportunities arose. They have a number of houses in Abingdon, and in Didcot and Harwell.
A recent opportunity to move people out from Milton Heights went sadly wrong. There is a development next to the site on Milton Heights. The land was once owned by Hft and they got outline planning permission for 48 dwellings, and five Home Farm Trust residential units. But I hear that after Hft sold the site to a developer, that developer then sold the site to another developer and that developer, Matthew Homes, asked to be released from that commitment to build five Hft homes (See http://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/java/support/Main.jsp?MODULE=ApplicationDetails&REF=P18/V0386/FUL ). The Vale of White Horse District Council say they could do nothing but comply on planning grounds.
The Hft services on Milton Heights are being handed back to Oxfordshire County who have a team of social workers reassessing people and working hard to look for placements. It is all happening very quickly. An action group, mostly made of parents, is calling for a stop to ensure this is done in a way that does not harm individuals. If you can imagine being super-sensitive to change, and then suddenly every bit of your life changes all at once. That is what it is like for some of the supported people. Others may be able to cope but are still finding it very upsetting to loose a place where they have known so many people for so long.
From what outsiders can tell, the closure must have been planned at Hft central office in Bristol, and must have had the knowledge of Oxfordshire County Council Social Services. Nobody else locally knew until January 13th. Staff, service users and their families were shocked by out of the blue announcements.
We, who live in Oxfordshire, know how Oxfordshire County Council has been affected by cuts in their central government grant. Educational support services have been slashed, children’s centres closed, bus subsidies stopped, elderly day centres and services cut, and now we are losing the gold standard services provided by Hft at Milton Heights.
Hft say they cannot continue to run Milton Heights at a loss – which they put at several thousand pounds a week. Oxfordshire County Council say they cannot afford to pay more. The Action Group are looking to do what they can but have not been made privy to the finances. So we will have to wait and see whether there is any chance of reprieve and whether any of the services and staff can be saved. If not the best things is to make the transition for the people involved as smooth as possible.
An article also appeared in the Oxford Mail giving a more personal picture of the some of the people involved https://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/18218179.devastated-families-fear-hft-milton-heights-day-centre-closure/.