Heartbroken families devastated by cuts to Ripon Community Link have backed the city council’s decision to call for an investigation by the Charity Commission.
Dozens of families, friends and supporters of the Link packed out the town hall’s council chamber to make an impassioned plea - for the charity that they’ve known and loved for 28 years to be rescued from “a fundamental breakdown in fiscal, strategic and moral leadership.”
Parents spoke of lifelong friends being “wrenched apart” by the Link’s decision to no longer support 12 of its most severely disabled members.
Emotions ran high at the full council meeting, where Coun Andrew Williams told families attending that what he had heard from them about the Link’s actions verged on “mismanagement of the charity,” to such an extent that he believes the Charity Commission needs to become involved.
He described the Link’s non-attendance at the meeting as doing nothing to rebuild public trust of the charity.
Coun Williams said: “The idea of trying to hide behind the smokescreen of secrecy and duplicity is one which does no good whatsoever in terms of the ongoing reputation and work that the charity would hope to continue with, and it does nothing at all to address the concerns of those who have lost services that they would have previously relied upon most heavily.”
Valerie Cocker, whose son Stephen is no longer being supported by the Link, told councillors: “Stephen and 11 friends were jettisoned with ten days notice from the Link, along with dedicated, empathetic and capable staff.
“Two close friends, friends for over two decades, wrenched apart - one staying, one gone. Who would do that? Not the Link that we knew, that is for sure.”
In a statement issued after the meeting, Ripon Community Link Chairman, Kathryn Harrison, said “Following a very challenging situation, with the full support of North Yorkshire County Council, we are now continuing to provide high quality services for 65 individuals across Ripon Walled Garden and St Wilfrid’s Bungalow.
“We hope and plan to increase this number in the future. We recognise and have heard the views of many people and are now focused on securing the long-term future of our charity."
An action group has been formed to discuss the future of Ripon Community Link, now re-named Ripon Walled Garden.
Acting as the Chair of the Ripon Community Link and Ripon Walled Garden Action Group at Ripon City Council’s meeting last week, Carol Priestley spoke on behalf of a group of concerned parents and carers attending.
She said: “We’re here to talk about people, the most vulnerable disabled people - our friends, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers - people dependent on us, and who were dependent on the charity for their choices and for their wellbeing. We’re appealing to a hearing on their behalf.
“I must state in the strongest terms that we do not wish to undermine the future success of our beloved charity. We all care deeply for the members and the remaining staff, all having developed deep and lasting attachment. However, we have got real concerns about the governance and financing of the charity, and the welfare of the members there.
“We believe that there has been a fundamental breakdown in the fiscal, strategic and moral leadership of this charity, and with this we are very fearful for the future of the charity.”
The Link’s longest-serving volunteer, Margaret Grainger, emphasised the importance of the charity, describing it as a “visionary and valued organisation.”
She said: “Community and link are the operative words in the name, because everyone, no matter what their disability, is part of a community which has worked so hard to enable all its members to interact with the wider world to show they are valued members of society.
“It has been a unique organisation, a compassionate and caring centre, run by a fantastic team of dedicated staff.”
In a statement issued after the meeting, Ripon Community Link Chairman, Kathryn Harrison, said: “We recognise that the Ripon Community Link is held in very high regards in the community, and we share the passion that it continues to serve as many people in Ripon that both funding and fund raising allows.
"Our interim Chief Executive has, and will continue to, meet with any families or individuals to address any concerns.”