Families left devastated, angry and heartbroken as closure of National Autistic Society day centre finalised

“I am deeply sorry”
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Families campaigning to save a specialist day centre for adults living with autism say they have been left devastated, angry, heartbroken and frustrated after they were told it would be shutting.

Members of campaign group SID – Save Irthlingborough Day Centre – had been battling to save Diamonds Day Centre run by the National Autistic Society (NAS) since October.

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Efforts had been made to broker a deal by funders including North Northamptonshire Council (NNC) to enable the National Autistic Society (NAS) to carrying on providing the service and stay open.

Diamonds Day Centre users Elliott Jones and Martin Seaman/UGCDiamonds Day Centre users Elliott Jones and Martin Seaman/UGC
Diamonds Day Centre users Elliott Jones and Martin Seaman/UGC

But despite a six-month reprieve, no other suitable provider could be found to take over the highly-valued centre that cared for more than 20 severely autistic adults.

In a letter to families, Steven Rose, NAS interim managing director for adult services, said: “I wanted to let you know personally that...very sadly the Diamonds Day Centre will be closing on April 19, 2024.

“As you know, we had agreed with North Northants Council in the autumn to run the day centre for another six months. I met with the council yesterday and I am deeply sorry that they have been unable to find another suitable provider to take over this service.”

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The closure will leave families, who chose the day centre for their loved ones, looking for places elsewhere that may not be as specialised as those provided by the NAS.

Activities offered by the centre include country walks, shopping trips, pub meals and crafts sessions – supervised by expert staff.

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Closure of National Autistic Society centre in Irthlingborough will be a 'disast...

Jackie-Lee Seaman has been fighting to keep the centre open for her brother Martin who lives with their mum Pauline in Northampton.

She said: “I’m angry and frustrated. It’s ridiculous that we fought to save the centre because we had seven weeks notice before, and we’ve now been given another seven weeks.

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"We have been looking at another day centre, it’s good but it’s not the same. For Martin it’s going to be a massive change. The nightmare continues.

"I just feel sorry for all the other kids who are going to be accessing autistic services.”

Mum Pauline said: “I’m just heartbroken about what’s happening to our families. There’s hardly any support for anybody.”

Gareth Jones and his parents from Wellingborough, have been campaigning to save the NAS service for his brother Elliott.

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He said: “It is beyond disappointing to learn of the recent decision that the Diamond Day Centre is to close in April of this year. Not only does that mean loss of consistently safe, secure and routine care for many individuals who attend the centre, but also the loss of peace of mind for all families of these people who now have to pick up the pieces and find alternative solutions, which for many are extremely restricted given individual vulnerabilities.”

A letter sent to families from North Northamptonshire Council said they were ‘sorry’ for the outcome and they were ‘confident’ there were ‘alternative services for people to draw on locally’.

Other service commissioners who fund care – including NHS, West Northants Council – would be working to ‘identify alternative services’.

Cllr Jason Smithers, leader of North Northamptonshire Council, said: “The National Autistic Society contacted us in September 2023 to inform us of their intention to close the service. We reached an interim agreement for them to extend their notice period, however this finishes on April 19, 2024.

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“We worked extensively, supported by the NAS, to try to identify an alternative provider to take over the running, however, sadly these efforts proved unsuccessful.

“While we recognise people will be upset and disappointed, we are working hard to identify suitable alternative provision and are focused on supporting individuals, their families, in partnership with the NAS, to co-ordinate and manage moves for people to their new support arrangements as sensitively as possible.”

Mr Rose added: “We are deeply sorry to confirm that the Diamond Day Centre in Northamptonshire will be closing in April. This is not the outcome we had hoped for.

“In October last year, we reached an agreement with North Northamptonshire Council (NNC) to continue to deliver care for the people we support for another six months. This was to allow time to try to find a more permanent solution for the future of this service.

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“Unfortunately it has not been possible to reach a long-term agreement with NNC, nor have they been able to find an alternative provider to take over the running of this much-needed service.

“Within the current funding crisis in social care, it has become impossible for our charity to provide the quality of care to a level that we demand and that autistic people have a right to expect.  We are not alone in facing these challenges, which are the result of years of underfunding of social care by central government. This has placed enormous pressures on local authorities and providers like us.

“In an effort to save this service from closure, we have investigated all other options. The National Autistic Society has been in discussions with all the local authority funders involved since January 2023 to try and secure the appropriate fee uplift for the people we support. We had hoped we could come to an agreement with these local authorities to pay the additional fees required and although this was possible with some funders, unfortunately we were unable to secure enough from all the funders to keep our service open.

“We are incredibly sad and sorry that a solution for this service could not be found. Our priority now is to assist the people we support, their families and our staff to navigate the changes that the closure will bring.”