Relatives gather outside council meeting to protest against care home closure plan

Around 50 relatives of residents living at a Tipton care home protested outside Sandwell Council last night as councillors discussed its future.

Diane Anderson Smith, whose father was a resident at Walker Grange, says plans to close it have outraged the community
Diane Anderson Smith, whose father was a resident at Walker Grange, says plans to close it have outraged the community

Clad in t-shirts and sweatshirts bearing the words "Save Our Home", they were objecting to a proposal for Walker Grange care home in Central Avenue to be put on the market for £500,000 by the authority.

The relatives were one of three separate protest groups with placards and banners challenging Sandwell representatives as they gathered for the full council meeting on Tuesday.

Dozens of people were stationed outside Sandwell Council House in Freeth Street concerned about the proposed sale of a cherished care home in Tipton, allegations of a racism "cover-up" at the authority relating to ousted councillor Mahboob Hussain, as well as plans to build 560 homes on green space in Brandhall.

Protestors chanted as councillors entered the building prior to the meeting, which discussed the care home proposal.

Some 50 relatives of people living at Walker Grange care home in Tipton, clad in t-shirts and sweatshirts bearing the words "Save Our Home", were objecting to a proposal that the Central Avenue facility be put on the market for £500,000 by the authority.

They are calling for the care home, which accommodates 22 people, to be saved and improved.

Diane Anderson Smith, whose father Louis has lived at the home for two years, said the council insists the care home is under-occupied and outdated, despite it "only being 29 years old".

“The community is outraged,” said Diane, 47.

“We started an online petition to save the care home which has attracted more than 1,000 signatures, and I have done some door-knocking and we have more than 500 signatures on paper.

“We relatives live close to Walker Grange, my dad has independent assisted living and can pop in and see me.

“Unfortunately the council is proposing that residents go to a building in Rowley Regis which is five miles away.”

The future of Walker Grange is uncertain

Diane said that Walker Grange is more than simply a care home. She said it is a “valuable” community asset that, before Covid, also acted as a day centre for people with dementia.

She also praised its “amazing” staff.

“We have people in the community with mobility issues and staff would bring them into Walker Grange for a bath or shower so that they could go home feeling fresh, clean and happy,” said Diane.

“The staff there are not just people who go to work - they genuinely care.

“For most of the staff it is like going to a second home - a second family. The teamwork they display is awesome.”

Her views were echoed by Jamieleigh Fellows, 32, whose 76-year-old grandfather Michael lives at the home.

"He has moderate dementia and loves it at Walker Grange," she said.

"My mum, aunty and I live nearby - just a three-minute walk from the home - so we can visit him easily.

"If the residents go to Rowley Regis we are worried as the hospital there does not have an A&E.

"My grandad said 'the only time I will leave the building is in a body bag'.

"We are fighting to keep the home open for residents and staff."

Ms Fellows said this uncertainty, "stress and anxiety" could be stopped.

"All we want the council to do is remove the option to close - it would be a massive relief," she added.

A three-month consultation on the future of Walker Grange began on September 23.

There are three options on the table: to do nothing; close Walker Grange; keep it open and modernise it.

Diane and her fellow protestors favour the latter, recognising that some new windows and a new central heating system is needed together with roof repairs following a lead theft.

Three different protest groups were outside Sandwell Council's HQ on Tuesday: Walker Grange Care Home group; anti-racism campaigners and a Brandhall Green Space group too

Diane believes that there are options and that half of the building could be sold to get some revenue for the council, or half of it could be turned into a dedicated dementia unit, while retaining a care home facility for its residents.

“We want to work with Sandwell Council for the benefit of the community,” said Diane.

“I hope they take our proposals into consideration.”

Councillor Archer Williams spoke in favour of upgrading Walker Grange, and removing the option to close it, at the meeting.

“It is reasonable for the consultation to result in Walker Grange being upgraded or remaining open in its current condition,” he said.

“It is unthinkable for many families in Tipton including the residents of Walker Grange that it could possibly be closed.

"It received a 'good' report from the Care Quality Commission in January 2020 - it is a safe provider.

“In recognising the community value of this facility, this council urges the leader and cabinet to reconsider and remove the option of closure for Walker Grange Care Home.”

Councillor Suzanne Hartwell said the council is not aware of any issues at Walker Grange but needed to be wait for the consultation to be completed and for questions to be answered regarding the condition of the building.

"Conversations are happening with residents every week," she said.

"When we have enough information to make a decision we will do."

Councillors voted for the consultation to continue with the option of closure remaining.

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