Jan 072012

By Stephen Davy-Osborne, with thanks to David Forbes.

An Aberdeen charity is seeking all of your old aluminium cans to help them raise enough money to buy a much needed mini bus.

Future Choices Aberdeen was set up following the closure of the Choices Day Centre, which left a number of members of the community with nowhere to socialise in a safe and friendly environment.

The charity offers disabled people and their carers in Aberdeen opportunities to get involved in the community through a number of voluntary projects within the city.

They now desperately require much needed funds so that they can buy a minibus to allow them to get out and about in the city.

City carer David Forbes, 29, said:

“The Cash for Cans Appeal doesn’t ask for your money, it simply asks for your empty undamaged aluminium cans, which then can be used in exchange for cash to go towards getting the charity its dream.”

So far, the appeal has reached over 100 cans already and also received the backing from Dame Anne Begg MP, Lewis Macdonald MSP and many other local high profile individuals. Even local schools are getting on board this appeal.

To support the Cans for Cash Appeal, please donate any aluminium cans to:

The Stewart Craft Centre,
Unit 2,
Deemouth Business Centre
South Esplanade East,
Aberdeen, AB11 9PB,
 or alternatively to Lewis Macdonald MSP Office, 80 Rosemount Place, Aberdeen. AB25 2XN or call Mr Forbes on 07821700046 to arrange a pick-up.

Contact Aberdeen Charity, cash for cans appeal on Facebook:

Dec 192010

Voice’s Old Susannah tackles more tricky terms with a locally topical taste.

The new cuts are well and truly underway.  Aberdeen City council met on Wednesday Dec15 and voted to get cracking on the ‘green lighted’ budget cuts, and the rest will follow as night follows day.  Old Susannah is certain this round of cuts will bring as much economic stability and prosperity as the last round of budget cuts did.

Cuts are always hard, but are especially unwelcome at this festive time of year.  Please then pause to spare a thought for the forgotten victims of these hard times who have been hit hard.  I am of course referring to the City Council officials who this year will not be reimbursed for printing their own Christmas cards to send to friends and constituents.  Yes, it’s true – you might not get a card this year showing your councillor, their family and the family pet by a fireplace in full technicolour glory, sincerely wishing you and your family the best for 2011.  Quite rightly, some of the councillors have complained that this is a cut too far.

Nothing brought quite as much cheer as a Christmas card showing your happy councillor, except perhaps knowing that your tax money helped to pay for it.   There is only so much a hardworking councillor can pay for out of their meagre salaries, so if anyone from Future Choices or the Cyrenians is reading this (or anyone else who feels this cut is unfair), please send your councillor a pound or two.  Thank you.

By popular demand Old Susannah has been trying to follow up on various animal cruelty stories previously covered in these pages.  Our friend the fox batterer, Donald Forbes, is due in the courts early in 2011; he went back on his original confession to clubbing the fox. He then said he was in mortal danger, and merely swung the club near the fox.  Now he’s saying nothing.  It remains a mystery how the fox was so badly injured it needed to be put down just from having a club swung near it.  Maybe Forbes is not a very good golfer.

Coventry’s Mary Bale still can’t explain why she put a cat into a wheelie bin and left it there for some 15 hours

Seagull – shooting Mervyn New of Marine Subsea is making no comment either.  Yours truly sent an email to his company  and its head office in Norway (asking about its’ guns at work’ policy); both resulted in ‘delivery failure’ messages.  I will call them again soon – no doubt they will want to explain why people run around their offices shooting animals.

It’s understood Mr New faces a charge under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. He could also face a charge alleging the reckless discharge of a firearm.  It’s really a sad day when a man can’t shoot bird chicks from his office window; whatever are we coming to?  Finally, Coventry’s Mary Bale still can’t explain why she put a cat into a wheelie bin and left it there for some 15 hours.  We are meant to have some sympathy for her – her father was critically ill.  Personally, I find that sending flowers or making soup for the ill person is usually more beneficial to them than the cat-in-the-bin method.

Committee: A committee is a group formed with common goals to promote a certain activity and/or result.  It is also said that ‘A camel is a horse designed by a committee’.  The reason Aberdeen runs as well as it does is its structure of committees.  There are about 20 of these highly efficient committees, and countless sub-committees and action groups under them.  Some of these groups of dedicated, far-seeing professionals include the ‘Audit and Risk’, ‘Development Management’,  and ‘Corporate Policy’ and  ‘Performance ‘ committees.  There is an ‘Urgent Business’ committee as well.

We might be about 70 million pounds out of budget, but we do have time, money and resources for a ‘taxi consultation group’.  Then again, with the money spent by Kate Dean alone on taxis, it’s probably a good idea this group exists.  One of my sources confirms that we are still frequently sending taxis instead of using buses to transport school children and adult groups where buses would be far more economical. I am surprised – I thought most adult groups had been done away with.

Kate Dean is such a genius; her diverse talents enable her to successfully do a host of diverse jobs at one time

It is good that we have a Disability Advisory Group.  The best advice I can think of for someone with special needs would be to move to somewhere that won’t slash its disability budget, or at least will clear the pavements in winter so you can leave your home.  (PS – do bear in mind that ‘Future Choices’ replaced ‘Choices’ which the Council axed.  They could, I’m sure, use a donation or two).

But clearly it is the Audit and Risk Management team that we all owe so much to.  We could be in an awful mess if we didn’t have people looking after our budget.    Risk managers must have been quite busy ensuring the City resolved its equal pay problems so successfully and swiftly.  And when one arm of the city council took another branch to court recently over a housing/services dispute – spending yet more taxpayer money in the process, it was great to know that risk managers somewhere made sure the City didn’t waste money or look like a laughing stock.

Old Susannah will have a look at these wonderful committees in more depth soon.

Diversity, Diversification: Diversity refers to a condition of being composed of different elements.  Leonardo daVinci was a genius with a wide ranging diversity of talents – sculptor, designer, painter, scientist. It is often said that we have not seen his like again, but in Aberdeen we have our own example.  Our very own Kate Dean is such a genius; her diverse talents enable her to successfully do a host of diverse jobs at one time.  She was leader of our Council before becoming head of Planning, and it is clear for all to see what talent she’s brought to those roles.  But our Kate finds that her role as councillor and head of planning leave enough free time for various Board of Director roles.

The state of Grampian NHS can be attributed to Ms Dean’s presence on the Board.  She was, of course, also on the Board of the successful AECC.  Of course a few million pounds were needed to keep the AECC afloat, and the auditors prepared a damning report (which the Council had to discuss in secret this week).  And the NHS locally may be in a bleak condition, fighting superbugs and parasites, but this could happen to anyone.  It is clear that without Kate Dean having such diverse talents and skills, we would not be where we are today.  Let’s give thanks where it is due.

In the old days, a worker or a company had to diversify to stay with the times.  You don’t see to many coopers and blacksmiths in town these days.  The camera and photographic supply giant Kodak saw the digitial age coming and immediately embraced it.  They changed their business model from concentrating on making film-producing cameras and supplies to become an online giant for digital products.

However, we don’t want to have to make everyone diversify. Every week there are glaring headlines pertaining to the nuclear industry and the new home building trade screaming ‘JOB LOSSES COMING.  Naturally we don’t ever want to stop making nuclear weapons – someone might lose a job.  And as long as there  are green fields we can build on, let’s not make the builders diversify into any other lines of work.  This should be self evident.

Sep 172010

In the last issue, we focussed on events set around the closure of Choices day care centre. With gratitude to carer David Forbes for his contribution, Fred Wilkinson continues his series of articles.

Firstly, I must apologise, as due to illness, and a few thorny legal issues, I was unable to finish the article I hoped to present this week. However, from the closure of Choices to the ongoing work of the Future Choices charity, I doubt if we will ever be short of a story.

In the process of gathering information for previous articles, I was offered the opportunity to attend a Future Choices committee meeting. Having had very little contact with Choices’ former users in more than two years, this invitation was most welcome. As well as a chance to catch up with old buddies it was a chance to witness first hand how the group were faring, and what avenues and opportunities were being pursued.

It was an afternoon of mixed emotions. I was made to feel extremely welcome at the home of group chairman Kevin McCahery and greeted warmly by all who arrived. However, as I caught up with their news, I was also updated on behalf of others I would, sadly, never have the chance to meet again.

As they conducted their business, and exchanged humour in between, it was extremely reassuring to realise that their resolve was very much intact, and the friendships between those present were as strong as ever. Also uncompromised by time was the residual anger, which surfaced occasionally. This anger directed towards particular sections and individuals within Aberdeen City Council may yet subside, but it is clear that it will take more than time for their contempt to be replaced by trust. Altogether the uncomfortable subtext was a message – that the closure of Choices, and how it has affected group members, was unforgivable.

I thought it was an awful wind up, but when the news bulletin came on the TV, my heart sank

Present at the meeting was David Forbes. Mr Forbes’ mother previously attended Choices and he clearly remembers the heartbreak experienced by all involved with the Day Centre.

“I’ll never forget in all my life. I got a call from my mum’s Day Centre informing me that Aberdeen City Council had decided to axe it due to their massive cutbacks. How do you tell your disabled mum; who loved going to the centre to keep active, see her friends, and learn new skills, that she could not go anymore?”

Mr Forbes chose to sum up his feelings around that time in two words.

“Emotional Hell.

“Strangely I thought it was an awful wind up, but when the news bulletin came on the TV, my heart sank as I accepted it was very real.

“I was 26, and caring full time for my mum who suffers from memory loss due to severe brain damage following a heart attack.”

The impact of closure affected many in addition to the service users. A secondary function of Choices was, that in providing day care to disabled individuals, their families and carers like Mr Forbes could enjoy periods of respite, enabling them to work or otherwise focus on their own personal needs and interests, and their personal and professional relationships with countless others.

“On the very last day of the Centre closing, it was very difficult personally for me to witness many disabled people, including my mum, crying and comforting each other. It made me realise how vital the service was to the local community.

The hard work was worth it and the fight to press on is bigger than ever!

“My mum and I have built up very good friendships with the people who used the service. We worked as a team and helped the other users to protest against the axing of the centre, with marches, petitions, media interviews, even lobbying Parliament …sadly all failed.”

But rather than just lie down and accept defeat, users and supporters including Mr Forbes pulled together to form Future Choices – a charity whose primary aim is to do what Choices did for the users – helping the local disabled community of Aberdeen live their lives as they should be allowed to do.

As I observed the meeting in progress and contributed where I could, I wondered if in some perverse way the cruel loss of Choices, and the fight to win back that sense of belonging has made the group stronger. They are still some considerable way from having in place what they aim for, but I feel a real sense of momentum in the group and a sense of pride – assets which give the group huge appeal.

Mr Forbes confirms this observation.

“The Charity is now up and running with new members being added regularly, and with loyal supporters and lots of future fundraising events in the pipeline, the future for Future Choices will hopefully be brighter.”

“The Question that I ask myself everyday when I see and do work with the Charity is where would we be now if we didn’t pull together as a strong team?

“And then when I turn to my mum and remind her she can still see her friends these days, it suddenly becomes clear. The hard work was worth it and the fight to press on is bigger than ever!

The meeting rolls on at a pleasant pace. The group are as always glad to be together, so no decisions are hurried, and the hard edges and painful memories are outweighed by the many, shared experiences they still laugh heartily about. Much as I share the desire to stay on and enjoy their fantastic company, I realise an hour has passed since I announced with apologies that I had to be heading home, and so I leave fortified with optimism that Future Choices are moving forward, and I pity anyone who dares to stand in their way.

David Forbes has organised a dinner dance event at the Hilton Treetops, Aberdeen on 13th November.
Tickets are £30 which includes live entertainment, a welcome drink, and a 3 course meal.

Contact David Forbes.
07821700046 / 01224486372

All proceeds to Future Choices ( Charity Reg SC040085 )

Sep 102010

Following last week’s Aberdeen Voice report on the progress of the Future Choices charity, this week Fred Wilkinson recounts events set around the closure of Choices.

Its time this writer put his cards face up on the table. In 2004, work related illness ended my 13 years as Senior Assistant Unit Manager with ACC Social Work Dept – now Neighbourhood Services.
However, I continued to do relief work, initially at Park House Day Centre, finding the experience not only rewarding, but often inspiring. It was a joy to witness that in the right environment, with the right support, there was more ability in evidence than disability.

I later worked in a small number of Day Care Centres for people with disabilities, Including Rosehill D.C.C and Choices.

For all my years in care work, and all the colleagues I worked alongside in many locations and situations, many of whom were highly conscientious, dedicated and talented, the staff team at Choices were second to none. Professional and personal interactions were in balance. There was a healthy respect between staff of all designations, a keen spirit of co-operation, and a great level of efficiency achieved through good communication and co-ordination.

Here was an able and willing workforce who believed in and took pride in their work, and voiced appreciation for assistance from fellow workers. Additionally, they consistently displayed a healthy regard for the users, which was frequently reciprocated. In terms of ‘Best Value’, ACC’s favoured benchmark, Choices was surely as good as it got.

There were tears, cries, blank stares of disbelief. Some felt physically sick. Others trembled visibly.

The 14th February 2008 is a date now referred to by former users and staff of Choices as the Valentines Day Massacre.
It was on that day that Choices Manager Joyce Ferguson received an email with the devastating news.

On Friday 15th February, at Choices Day Centre, I became aware that ‘permanent’ staff were being summoned in turn to talk privately with the Unit Manager.

And one by one with a spring still in their step they closed the door behind them as they entered – only to emerge minutes later almost crippled by their vain attempts to disguise the fact that they were shaken, shocked, bereft, aggrieved and traumatised, and would search for another door to shelter behind until reasonably composed.

The Unit Manager  later addressed the users.

The announcement brought a collective gasp from all parts of the room. There were tears, cries, blank stares of disbelief. Some felt physically sick. Others trembled visibly. Different reactions, but the same stimulus – pain.

At a single stroke, this once co-ordinated, capable and highly effective staff group appeared inadequate – too many in need of immediate comfort and reassurance – too little time to prepare, plan, prioritise and provide.

The early response was essentially a sense of denial from “This is not happening” to “They can’t close Choices”. Then came the questions “What will happen to us?”, “Where will we go?” and the big one – “Why?”.

Anxiety however, gave way to anger.

The next big question “What are we going to do about it?” was the first to yield credible answers, and the combined efforts of a group of disabled individuals would soon amount to a campaign that could be regarded as nothing short of heroic.

As the battle lines were drawn, up sprung a fence which Choices staff could neither sit upon nor stand either side of.

To actively support the campaign would be viewed as industrial action, whilst anything short of support threatened to undermine relationships built upon trust, mutual respect, and working together over many years. It was difficult to determine how assistance with users’ efforts to save their service was any different to that routinely offered in connection with their wellbeing, development, personal fulfilment and self determination.

Staff were aware that to stay outside with the users, they could be seen as participating in the protest.

Staff would feel duty bound to warn a blind person in their care that he/she was walking towards a staircase. To take no action would equivalent to tripping up said individual one step short of said hazard. So how could staff reconcile the caring and enabling role they were professionally committed to, whilst on the payroll of Aberdeen City Council?

The implications of such a dilemma put the staff to the test when the users held a protest. The users invited friends, family, media and sympathetic politicians to join them outside the building facing Westburn Road. It was an awe inspiring spectacle as the fruits of their tireless efforts and organisation came together.

Decked out in their handmade ‘Save Choices’ T-shirts, holding up handmade banners and placards, together possibly for the last time, they proudly and defiantly stated their feelings, as passing vehicles pumped horns in support and made donations before continuing their journey.

Respecting the users’ rights and wishes, staff ensured that they reached their chosen location safely, and remained ready to assist as necessary with regards to mobility. Staff were aware that to stay outside with the users they could be seen as participating in the protest.

However, to be apart from the group introduced certain unacceptable, and unnecessary risks.

Particular users were vulnerable to injury due to falls or seizures.

A few were prone to anxiety whilst others had sensory impairments and communication difficulties.

Staff members believed it unacceptable to contribute to known risk factors, and simply wrong to withdraw care.

A compromise had been reached whereby staff were permitted to assist the users on condition that they took an unpaid 30 minute lunch break.

To clarify, staff remaining in the building while the users were outside were paid for their time. Those who chose to support the users in accordance with their personal needs, and to minimise risk of injury and discomfort were obliged to do this for free.

To this day it is difficult to accept that the council were prepared to reward inaction, yet would apply financial disincentives to anyone choosing, instead, to provide a minimal caring presence for a period of 30 minutes.

The council stood firm. Adult Services Team Manager Helen McNeill contacted Choices’ Acting Manager Clare Rochford and requested a list of all staff that had chosen to assist the users. Ms Rochford announced the list with an unmistakable sense of pride. Notably, the equivalent of 30 minutes wages was subsequently docked from Ms Rochfords’ salary.

It demonstrated Choices as more than an enabling facility. It was potentially a mechanism for empowerment

Despite Aberdeen City Council’s divisive stand with regard to the role of staff, the users, an already close group of individuals, found strength in themselves and each other as they determined to save their service. With the help of their friends and carers they delivered a  petition with over 5000 signatures to St Nicholas House.

Veteran musician and entertainer Alexander Rennie, 73 year old husband and carer of choices user Mary, enlisted the help of his daughter to create an online presentation to highlight the issue. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5MsfJRTdeA&feature=related

Users also organised to respond to the proposals and spread their message by way of carefully crafted letters and emails which fully represented the group. They collaborated to present a united and cohesive argument to local media. They set up face to face meetings with key players within Aberdeen City Council, and defiantly launched a legal challenge to the closure.

All this brave and tireless work, and the quality of organisation the users achieved was in some ways equally as breathtaking to witness as their impressive march down Union Street – the biggest demonstration in Aberdeen for a generation. These people were no longer our equals. They were beyond equal – a force to be reckoned with.

It also served to further highlight the value of the service which was being withdrawn.

Without the transport to bring them together, premises suited to their individual needs in which to meet and discuss issues, and the facilities to aid their efforts, how effective could the campaign have been in the face of such overwhelming odds?

It demonstrated Choices as more than an enabling facility.

It was potentially a mechanism for empowerment, and as such was a loss of a magnitude impossible to comprehend for anyone evaluating the service purely in financial terms.

How sad it is then – particularly at a time where the Future Choices charity are seeking out suitable venues for their activities- that a purpose built facility no longer has any purpose.

How sad that where once was the hub of a content and functional community, now stands an empty building boarded up and neglected – next door to the similarly abandoned Park House where many friendships and relationships were formed and sustained over three and a half decades only to be torn apart at the snap of a finger.

How can such disregard for the social needs of vulnerable people, and such waste be justified in terms of ‘continuous improvement’ and ‘best value’?

Next week Aberdeen Voice focuses on the legal challenge to the closure of Choices, how the case could have been successful, and the probable impact this would have had on care service provision nationally as well as locally.

Sep 032010

By Fred Wilkinson.

An Aberdeen charity is making progress towards re-establishing a range of facilities and activities for disabled people lost to them as a result of savage cuts imposed by Aberdeen City Council.

Future Choices is an organisation comprising former users of Choices Day Care Centre, their carers, friends and families, who feel that the service was unjustly withdrawn, and was vital to their functioning as individuals on a par with non-disabled persons.

Choices, the only day care facility in the city for physically disabled people, was closed in June 2008 as part of the city council’s endeavours to address a £29m budget deficit.

Users enjoyed access to a regular program of therapeutic, educational, recreational and socially stimulating activities tailored to their needs, abilities and preferences. More importantly, together with needs based transport arrangements, Choices Day Care Centre provided the means for users to meet regularly, enjoy social contact, and to maintain friendships in an environment where fellow users and staff alike were regarded as equals.

Two years on, the high profile legal challenge to the closure, the media scramble, and the 4000-strong procession down Union Street in protest against the cuts has perhaps understandably been forgotten by many. For former users of Choices however, it is impossible to forget.

The Wrong Choice from Scott Millar on Vimeo.

Sadly, since the closure of Choices Day Care Centre, seven former users have died. It will take much to convince Future Choices members that the closure had no impact on this statistic. Nevertheless it is an uncomfortable thought that the last months or years of their lives should be blighted with upheaval, uncertainty, frustration and deep disappointment.

We are still here! We have not gone away, and we have no intention of doing so!

This was not unanticipated. On March 3rd 2008, in response to the announcement of the closure, Acting Manager of Choices Clare Rochford wrote to Corporate Director Pete Leonard underlining how vital the service was to the independence and functioning of the users and their families, and warning of the potential human cost of the proposal.

It has indeed been a costly and difficult struggle punctuated with emotional highs and lows.

Early in their campaign, the group were offered a minibus free of charge, including maintainance, storage, and a driver by an employee of a major public transport operator. It was a cruel let-down for the group when said employee became increasingly unavailable to deliver on his promise.

More recently, the group were forced to give up office space due to unsustainable rental costs, however, negotiations are ongoing as regards premises for meetings and activities. But despite the many disappointments, they are undeterred from fulfilling their objectives.

“We are still here” Future Choices chairman Kevin McCahery told Aberdeen Voice “We have not gone away, and we have no intention of doing so!

” Furthermore, we will still be here when certain people within Aberdeen City Council are not!”

As well as having secured a regular alternative therapy session, and holding regular coffee mornings which, incorporate bingo and beetle drives, the group have a number of options under consideration as regards adding other activities such as arts and crafts, basic computer skills and/local history.

Transport remains their greatest logistical hurdle. Many of the members having mobility problems, transport is vital to all aspects of their activities, and is central to all future plans.  Mr McCahery points out that even accessing reliable means to attend group meetings is far from straightforward, and such problems can affect attendance – which has a knock-on effect regarding efficiency of information sharing and decision making.

None of us are qualified, but we are determined to do some good for ourselves and other disabled people.

Much of Future Choices energies are dedicated to fundraising to keep the organisation running and to maintain meaningful and productive interaction between its members.
The process of securing funds and organising events has at times been a minefield.

“The amount of red tape we have had to go through has been unbelievable” said Mr McCahery, commenting on the task of coming to terms with legal and logistical hurdles. “None of us are qualified, but we are determined to do some good for ourselves and other disabled people.”

Carer and Future Choices member David Forbes has organised a dinner dance event at the Hilton Treetops, Aberdeen on 13th November.
Tickets are £30 which includes live entertainment, a welcome drink, and a 3 course meal.

Contact David Forbes.
07821700046 / 01224486372

All proceeds to Future Choices ( Charity Reg SC040085 )

Next week, Aberdeen Voice looks back at events set around the closure of choices, the users’ brave campaign to save the service, and the marginalisation of staff.