Wednesday, 4 November 2015
Lancashire, Oxfordshire and making life better
This time of year is particularly gorgeous in Charlbury. The walk across the fields and through the Wychwood forest to my favourite pub; The Plough at Finstock, is at its best in the autumn's changing colours. And the Hound loves playing with fallen leaves too. Sunday was All Saints Day and the little Norman church in Shorthampton was celebrating its feast of title. It takes an hour to walk over the fields to this now deserted village but the walk along the Evenlode valley in the early morning sun was a good reminder of how beautiful our English countryside is. And then a quiet and peaceful Mass in this small but lovely old church.
Oxfordshire is the most rural of southern counties as I was reminded by Richard Quallington, who is the interim CEO of ACRE - Action for Communities in Rural England.
Richard is currently reviewing their structure and purpose - as so many bodies are doing against the gloomy economic background of permanent austerity. Yet we know that umbrella bodies like ACRE perform a vital function. If we forget capacity and infrastructure we know what happens; Kids Company being in the news again shows this.
And back to the countryside I was up in Lancashire on Monday to visit Stanley Grange, a community for people with learning disabilities, which is now owned by the families of the residents there. The great charity Future Directions CIC is now running the services on their behalf. Its a rather lovely place and I can well see why the families of those who live there were so keen to ensure a strong future for the community there. They gave me a visit to see the homes and community facilities and then a splendid tea in the community hall which has magnificent views out over the countryside towards Preston.
And, sweetly, as this is the week of my 63rd birthday, they had baked me a birthday cake. Complete with candles ( though not 63 of them). And I even got a nice chorus of "happy birthday". I was most touched. Very kind of the staff team and residents to organise that.
And how appropriate after the announcements on Friday about plans for the closure of institutions and the scaling up of community facilities. There is a particular challenge in Lancashire with the closure of Calderstones, the biggest of the NHS hospitals for people with learning disabilities. The need for careful planning, consultation, involvement of all those people and families involved, as well as the increase in effective community provision will be crucial. But I know there are some superb charities and community organisations like Future Directions, the National Autistic Society, United Response, Mencap and Dimensions to name but a few who are there to rise to this challenge. Let's ensure they get the tools and resources to build that better future for people with learning disabilities.