Consultation on future of Walthamstow centre for disabled adults gets underway

Public consultation on the closure of a centre for disabled adults in Walthamstow is officially underway.

Waltham Forest Council’s consultation on the future of the Markhouse Centre will run from July 8 until August 18.

The centre, which is run entirely by the east London council, supports adults with learning disabilities, complex needs and autism by offering a “wide range of meaningful activities” like gardening and keeping fit.

Councillors agreed to review the feasibility of the centre at a cabinet meeting in June, after hearing it would cost £1.2million to restore the centre to a ‘modern’ standard. Waltham Forest spent £489,000 on “essential works” to the building in 2016, but nothing since.

There are currently around 50 residents with learning disabilities attending the Markhouse Centre.

However, there was only one referral to the service in March and the authority says there has been a reduction in demand for “traditional, building-based” services across the eight centres in the borough.

Grace Williams, leader of the council, said she supported instead taking a “people-based” approach, and it was important the council focused on “people, not buildings” at the June meeting.

If Markhouse was to close, the council says attendees would instead go to day centres nearer to where they live.

According to its information pack, other providers of such services – such as Access Living and Eastway Care – offer a “broader range” of activities at a “better value” for the authority.

Waltham Forest’s chief financial officer Rob Manning previously said the council is facing “unprecedented levels of demand” on its services but campaigners against the closure have called the proposals “disgraceful”.

James O’Rourke, a former councillor and social worker whose brother uses the service, previously expressed concern it could disrupt the lives of disabled people who have built friendships there.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “People with learning disabilities are sentient and they develop friendships.

“Moving them to the four corners of the borough would mean removing them from their friendship circles.”

He added: “Cuts tend to happen to people who can’t speak up for themselves.”

The council has maintained that if the centre is closed, then individual assessments will be carried out and “alternative support” offered to each attendee.

A spokesperson for the authority said in June: “We are not immune from the current financial crisis in local government. We must make difficult decisions to manage our budget.”

The number of people relying on adult social care has risen by more than 1,000 since 2018/19, from 2,270 to 3,385.

Waltham Forest did not explore the option of private sector ownership as there was “no indication” anyone would be willing to absorb the costs associated with renovating the building. Additionally, “significant funding gaps” would prevent building a new centre in its place.

The authority previously consulted on whether the Markhouse Centre was fit for purpose and in July 2021, but ultimately opted to keep it running.

A final decision will be made on the centre in November. Service will remain the same in the meantime, the council says.

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter

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