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Campaign of the Week Care centre crisis

PETER LAZENBY reports on the Rotherham locals fighting to save essential services

Robin Symonds is one of the organisers of a campaign to save two centres for vulnerable adults in Rotherham in South Yorkshire.
For him it’s personal. His 35-year-old sister has Downs Syndrome and uses one of the centres five days a week.

“The centre is her life,” he said. “It’s where she meets her friends. When she goes home, she’s already looking forward to going to the centre again the next day.

“My mother is beside herself, not knowing how she’ll manage if the centre closes.”

The decision to close Rotherham’s Learning Disability Day and Respite Centres was taken by just seven of Rotherham’s 63 councillors in May and the campaign to save the centres was launched soon after.

The campaigners have gathered 71,000 signatures on a petition opposing the closures.

There have been demonstrations. The latest was outside Rotherham Town Hall on Wednesday when the council met.
“We had a bagpiper to get up the councillors’ noses,” said Robin. “Then we packed the public gallery in the council chamber and five or six of us asked questions. We didn’t get any answers.”

Robin is something of a veteran when it comes to campaigning. He was the full-time officer of public service union Unison involved in the year-long series of strikes by Care UK workers in 2015-15 and in last year’s Kinsley Three campaign involving three school cleaners in Wakefield.

In both instances the workers’ jobs had been privatised and their wages and conditions attacked. Robin’s not acting in his union capacity in the Rotherham campaign but because of his sister and because he knows the effects closure of the centres will have on the 750 people who use them. The campaign has won support from Unison in Rotherham and from the town’s trades union council.

A letter of support has been received from Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey and the campaign has also had the backing of four other general secretaries — Mark Serwotka of the PCS, Tim Roache of GMB, Dave Prentis for Unison and Kevin Courtney for the NEU.

The 71,000-signature petition opposing the planned closures was to have been handed in at Wednesday’s council meeting.
The aim of the presentation was to force councillors to have a debate on the closures, which they are compelled to do in response to any petition supported by 2,000 signatures.

But there was a hitch.

“Legal action has been launched against the closures — not by us but I believe by one of the families who will be affected by the closures,” said Robin.

“It’s going to the High Court. The council can’t debate the issue while the legal action is taking place and we don’t know how long that will take.” The delay has not deterred the campaigners.
“We’ll be collecting more signatures at Rotherham Show this weekend,” said Robin. “It’s usually attended by around 90,000 people.

“We will be having more protests. We are going to keep the campaign high profile.”

Campaigners also feel that the decision to close the centres was based on wrong information and are considering calling for the resignation of one of the councillors involved.

“That will raise the stakes a bit,” said Robin.

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