Luke Ashton loves northern soul, cinema trips and nights out at the pub with his mum.
The 26-year-old has spastic quadriplegia and cerebral palsy, meaning he needs round-the-clock care, which his mum Gina Powers is happy to provide.
The Harborne family receives 56 days of respite care a year and Luke loves going in a minibus to Emscote House in Wylde Green, Sutton Coldfield, where he stays to give his 56-year-old mum a much-needed break.
But The Norman Laud Association, which runs Emscote House for adults and Lime Grove House for children, has announced it is to shut both homes later this year due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic – and Luke and Gina are devastated.
“Luke fell in love with Emscote House straight away,” said Gina, who said he started attending there after turning 18.
“Due to shielding, Luke has been at home for seven months. He’s only just returned to Emscote and then I had a call to say it was closing. Life is unthinkable without respite. He’s lost his lifeline, and so have I.
“Luke’s my son and I love him but it’s very tiring and, after seven months, I’m starting to feel the pinch. This is a nightmare now, I think our future looks very bleak.”
The Norman Laud Association has faced funding issues for some time, which the CEO, the board of Trustees, key staff members and supporters have been seeking to address. But it said the pandemic had made ‘an already challenging position much worse’ with increasing loss of income for the short-break homes.
Much of the organisation’s income comes from councils which part-fund service users’ visits. But lockdown rules meant occupancy rates fell well below 50 per cent.
The charity said reductions in occupancy had put its finances in a critical position. As a result, it has been decided there will be ‘a gradual winding-down of services until the end of the year with a view to, as best as possible, protecting the association’s most vulnerable clients’.
Having been forced to eat into its reserves for a prolonged period and despite the efforts of fundraisers, the charity said it could not cover the on-going losses.
It’s a huge blow to the 60 adults and 30 children whose families use the homes for respite care.
“The thought of going for another six or 12 months without respite is awful,” said Gina, who has two older kids. Luke also has autism, learning difficulties and global developmental delays.
“And am I going to find another respite unit? Will I trust them with Luke? It’s not just a case of finding a place, and these places are like gold dust, it’s whether it’s going to be suitable for him.
“Luke is bubbly, cheeky, outgoing and a bit of a ladies man, he likes to flirt! He loves his music, especially northern soul and he has done a bit of DJing on the Out on the Floor with Chalky show on Radio WCRFM. Emscote is a real home from home for Luke.”
She added: “Normally at Emscote, they have meals together, go to the cinema and the cafe and enjoy the garden. Luke really enjoys it, he’s got some friends there, some of whom he knows from school.
“But the manager says they applied to the government for a grant but have been turned down so they’re having to close and make the staff redundant. I find it insulting when I think of how government money is being spent elsewhere. It’s sad the staff are losing their jobs just before Christmas.”
The organisation said its regulators, the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted, as well as local authorities and social workers, together with parents and other carers, would be consulted about the best way to secure alternative placements for all the children and adults who continue to need short break care services.
Staff at the homes have been informed of the position and will be paid in full during their notice period until the end of the year.
Elaine Mountford, CEO of The Norman Laud Association, said: “The Trustees have regretfully concluded the charity will have to wind down its operations and close at the end of 2020, after which the organisation will be placed into liquidation.
“The Norman Laud Association closing marks the end of an era and I would like to thank all those people who have contributed to making the Association something I’ve had the privilege to be part of.
She added: “Care will continue to be provided for children, adults and their families whilst alternative arrangements are made.”
Charles Turner, partner at CVR Global and a specialist in the charity sector together with Craig Povey, head of CVR Global’s Birmingham office, will be helping with the liquidation process.
Charles said: “It is never easy when a charity doing excellent work in the community runs into financial difficulty, but our job is to face the commercial realities and find the best options for everyone involved.
“Following discussions with the Trustees, our recommended process is a gradual winding-down of the charity, which means its most vulnerable clients can continue to get the care they need while arrangements are made for their future care.
Charles added: “Given the circumstances, this is the Trustees’ preferred outcome – it is the best way to protect the interests of both clients and stakeholders in what is a very difficult situation.
“Every effort was made to keep the homes open, but long-term challenges to the underlying financial operational model, made much worse by the pandemic, meant this was simply not viable.
“We are pleased to hear everything is being done to ensure The Norman Laud Association’s children, adults and families find alternative care arrangements after the homes close.”