Parents speak out: Heartbreak at 'devastating' loss of services to Ripon Community Link

The much-loved Community Link has beenprovidingspecialist support for people with disabilities for 25 years
The much-loved Community Link has beenprovidingspecialist support for people with disabilities for 25 years

Heartbroken families have described a loss of services to Ripon Community Link as a "devastating" blow to the city and the district.

A sudden reorganisation and scale back of the charity has left little time for 12 of its service users with more complex needs to find alternative care, and 12 staff redundancies have also been announced.

The much-loved Community Link has been providing specialist support for people with disabilities for 25 years, and news of its recent financial struggles has come as a complete shock for families supported by the organisation, who say they have seen no previous indications of financial trouble.

Like other parents, Julie Wood unexpectedly received a letter through the post on Tuesday last week, which stated that her son Thomas will no longer be able to access the Link's day centre from June 22, after eight years of support - giving just 10 days' notice to find alternative care.

Mrs Wood said: "Taking him there the day after we found out was just horrendous, this is just so upsetting for everybody. This will have a devastating effect on Tom, I don't know what he is going to do now. The first few days I couldn't even think about it, I just couldn't believe it. There is nothing else suitable for him, or close enough for us to go to.

"Ripon is so accepting and so used to all of the members of Community Link being there and being so involved in the daily life of Ripon.

"People aren't happy about what's happening, and I think the whole atmosphere in Ripon is about to change. People are angry and upset, and so many of us are asking questions but we don't seem to be getting answers."

But amid these distressing circumstances, parents have been quick to praise the members of Community Link staff who have supported their children over so many years.

Mrs Wood said: "They become like family, they don't just know your child, they get to know the parents and carers. They have been there for me as well, you can phone them up and have a cry and a moan and they make it better.

"I can't praise the staff highly enough, I have always been 100 per cent behind them, and they've always been 110 per cent behind Tom."

A spokesperson for Ripon Community Link said: “It is with great regret that we are having to withdraw our services to 12 current service users with more complex needs. We have been exploring ways in which we could keep on providing these services for a longer period, which have so far proved unsuccessful.

“It is also important to stress that we are in daily contact with North Yorkshire County Council’s Children and Adult Services in a bid to find suitable alternative services for these service users."

Earlier this year, Ripon Community Link launched a consultation of its services, after financial challenges threw its existence into doubt.

In a statement, the charity said: "These challenges included a change in commissioning arrangements which provided cash flow problems shortly after the long-awaited opportunity to secure the land currently occupied by Ripon Walled Garden, providing a high value asset for the future benefit of the organisation."

As a result of the consultation of its services, an interim chief executive will be appointed, and the charity will vacate its premises at Ripon Community House.

In a joint statement, parents of Community Link users said: "Members remaining will receive a much reduced programme of services and in particular this affects female members who have lost the provision of swimming and sports activities.

"This Friday, Ripon Community Link at Community House closes its doors, and members will bid a traumatic farewell to the wonderful staff who have supported them brilliantly over the years. This was a vocation to them and not a job. I hope that as many family and carers can be present.

"We have also requested an urgent meeting with the board of trustees and the executive to whom we wish to put our questions and concerns for the future."

The Link's Chair of Trustees, Karen Murray, said: “Like many small charities operating in extremely challenging financial conditions, we examined ways to secure the long-term future success of our charity.

“We took the difficult, but necessary, steps of reviewing all our services, and whilst the last six months has been incredibly challenging, we now have a way forward that secures our long-term future and safeguards the jobs of 22 members of staff and our support of around 65 service users.

“I would like to pay tribute to all of our staff who have helped shape our future direction, and I wish to thank all those who will sadly be leaving us for their years of dedication and service.”

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