The Vassall Centre is vital - we must not let it close
THE possible closure of The Vassall Centre in Fishponds is alarming. And after speaking to some of those on the inside, I'm even more alarmed.
This centre has helped change the lives of countless local disabled people, offering them opportunities they may not otherwise have had, a sense of community and understanding and an environment which is truly barrier-free.
Nationally acclaimed, its blueprint should be replicated in every town and city across the nation – it should not be facing potential closure.
I've visited the centre, originally a wartime hospital, a few times, and it really is an incredible place. Bright, friendly and inspirational, it's where disabled and able-bodied people work side by side.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, June 30 2013
For many who go there, it offers their first ever taste of work experience – which often leads to a job.
The centre has been carefully designed so as many people as possible can enjoy it, whatever their level of ability. Disabled people are constantly forced to battle against a world designed by the able-bodied, but at The Vassall Centre true accessibility comes as standard and no-one feels 'singled out' for special treatment.
All switches are at a height helpful to people in wheelchairs, who also benefit from smooth floor surfaces. Its garden is planted with fragrant plants and flowers so visually-impaired people can enjoy them too, and is kept free from hanging branches which could hurt them. All picture frames have non-reflective glass to help people with a visual impairment enjoy the art and photography on display.
The attention to detail even extends to the fact that you won't find a single traditional drawing pin in the whole building, as these always fall spike up which is bad news if a wheelchair rolls over it. All drawing pins at the centre land on their side if dropped.
One of its users summed up what it means to them by simply saying "at The Vassall Centre, I'm not disabled".
The trustees who own The Vassall Centre have put forward a proposal to close and sell it. The 17 disability organisations which currently use the site would have to find themselves new premises.
The trustees say the building will become too expensive to repair long-term, but they've given reassurances in this newspaper that the services it currently provides will continue.
Yet in an email I've seen from the trust's chairman Gordon Richardson, he says: "Our goal is to ensure continued viability for the Trust and continued support for the work undertaken at The Vassall Centre, if that is possible."
If . . .
People I've spoken to at the centre are shocked and dismayed – and say the situation is not quite what it seems. They are desperate for the centre to stay open, and say it's far from dilapidated.
The trustees say they want to redirect their efforts to helping disabled people find work in the community – but the staff I've spoken to are extremely worried about the consequences of dispersing the many local disabled people who the centre helps, taking away their community 'hub' that's adapted to their needs and the friendships forged there.
And they're concerned that this news broke while many interested parties were on holiday, putting them on the back foot when it comes to galvanising support and sourcing viable alternatives before the consultation deadline.
The centre's charismatic and dynamic driving force Sue McMullen sadly passed away two years ago. I can only imagine what she'd have made of all this. The Vassall Centre is a vital part of our community – we must not let it close.