A £10,000-a-table charity fundraiser – and a very civilised picket line

At a black-tie dinner for Scope, campaigners had a question for guests: did you know the charity is closing nearly a third of its care homes?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

With his white shirt and formal black tie, aided by the walking frame he pushes ahead of him, 86-year-old Frank Lindsell doesn’t look like a threatening revolutionary. But for one leading disability charity, Frank is a marked man.

At the main entrance to London’s medieval Guildhall, where guests and their City-heavy wallets are welcomed to the £10,000-a-table fundraising bash, Frank’s name is on the list of people the organiser – the charity Scope – is determined will get nowhere near the big event.

The pensioner is part of small protest organised by the campaigner Rosa Monckton, aiming to embarrass Scope by informing the event’s guests of how the charity’s decision to close 11 of its 37 care homes will badly affect the lives and families of 190 long-term residents, many with severe disabilities. Their protest is hardly on par with the Occupy movement. Carrying placards neatly hidden by bin bags, Ms Monckton admits: “We’re going to get kicked out of here quickly if we look like causing trouble.” But small as it may be, the protest raises wider questions over the future of care in the UK.

In the public square outside the ancient town hall, Grand Prix paddock passes are among the donations for sale in a charity auction attended by the world championship winner Sir Jackie Stewart in his trademark tartan trews.

While the former racing driver shakes hands with other guests and donors, Frank, standing nearby, explains why he’s taken to the streets and is handing out leaflets describing the life of his daughter, Claire.

“She’s 53 and has lived with Scope for 15 years. Her home is Drummonds in Essex. She’s immensely happy there. But they are going to close it, no question.” He begins describing his daughter’s cerebral palsy and her other disabilities – doubly incontinent, in a wheelchair, no speech. Then he breaks; his voice now can’t make words, only low sounds and helpless brief squeals. His head falls and he begins to cry.

He gathers himself and continues: “She’s in a community of 38 people she knows. She wants to stay. She needs the stimulus of others. They’ve been together for years. But if it closes, will she be given a bed in an old people’s home? Scope says these homes, these communities, are old-fashioned institutions. And Drummonds is a bit old, a bit grotty, but residents love it. This is all a flawed, blind ideology.”

86-year-old Frank Lindsell is part of the protest organised by the campaigner Rosa Monckton (Micha Theiner)

At the beginning of the year Scope – which used to be called the Spastics Society and has more than 3,500 staff and an annual turnover of around £100m – announced that much of the institutional care it provided at homes across England and Wales was an unwanted hangover from a past era when the disabled were housed, schooled and employed alongside other disabled people in out-of-sight, out-of-mind places.

It said disabled people were no longer choosing to live in such places, that aspirations had changed, and the demand for “independent” housing, with disabled people having more control over their lives, meant Scope needed to review what it provided.

Care homes in Oxford, Kingston, Salisbury, Northampton, Basingstoke and Colchester are among those earmarked for closure. “Consultations” for all individuals and families involved have been promised.

But Frank says none of this will help his daughter. “Claire only communicates with people she knows. This is the problem. Many like Claire are now middle-aged with elderly parents. Having her at home isn’t an option. You have to prepare her food, you have to shove it in her mouth and…” He can’t complete the sentence, and begins sobbing again.

He’s comforted by Gill Robinson, whose brother Tim lives at Hamptons. “He’s in a wheelchair, can’t really move, has poor eyesight. He has epilepsy, he’s incontinent and can’t use his left arm. He’s been there for 25 years. He’s 49. Others have been there longer than him. Staff too. Nottinghamshire council, which pays Scope for his care, is keen to move him back there. But places like this don’t exist, are no longer being built, and Nottinghamshire’s budget is being cut.”

Gill describes the Scope review as an “ideological crusade” and adds: “I wish my brother could live independently. But he can’t. He’s never going to go down the pub and meet new friends, or go to work. And to save him from boredom he needs people around him, in a social environment, a community.”

An official from Scope comes over, noting the protest group getting larger. “Hi Gill,” she says. She insists that all the people here “have been talking to Scope for a year”. Mary Ward interrupts. “No, they’ve been dictating to us for a year.”

Mary’s daughter Jenny has been disabled since birth. Now 47, she’s been at Drummonds for 27 years. “She’s quadriplegic. And despite asking and asking what is going to happen, we’ve been offered no answers and no alternatives.”

Richard Hawkes, appointed chief executive of Scope two years ago, is also in the square. He argues that it is time to accept that changes are needed in the old system of care.

“Disabled people want to do the same thing as everyone else,” he says, and describes one home likely to close as housing 14 residents in wheelchairs, with a lounge big enough for four.

“The options and the choices that disabled people want to make today are very different from 30 years ago. We closed two care homes this year and we supported every single individual to make a choice and move to a home of their choice. Every single one.”

He also criticises the small gathering trying to disrupt the fundraiser, saying the families “hadn’t taken up [our] offer to talk about the options.”

Mr Hawkes questions Frank’s description of his daughter’s situation because “she is married”.  The CEO admits not knowing further “details”, but Ms Monckton says she finds the comment “absolutely incredible”.

Frank has no luck in gate-crashing the event, however. Instead, after lengthy haggling, a Scope trustee, Gavin Poole, is found to listen to Frank’s concerns. “I only want what’s best for my daughter, not for Scope,” he says. “Is that too much?” Mr Poole diplomatically talks of transition arrangements and offers promises to re-examine the case, but there is little common ground between the two, especially when Frank asks: “How does a person like Claire live independently? Would you tell me? How?”

The group eventually leaves, frustrated and emotional. They will keep fighting.