Users of Oasis Day Centre describe it as a ‘lifeline’

USERS of Barnstaple’s Oasis Day Centre faced with the prospect of its possible closure have expressed their anger and frustration towards Devon County Council.

Catherine Yates, 42, and Shana Little, 44, both of whom cope with physical disabilities, described the day centre as a ‘lifeline’ and outlined the apparent ‘betrayal’ of councillor Stuart Barker, cabinet member for adult social care.

Catherine, who has a permeated spine and is often forced to walk with a crutch to maintain her balance, said: “All along, Stuart Barker always said that, if we wanted to stay as a group, Devon County Council will keep you as a group.”

But now, following the council’s recent decision to close 20 state-run care homes and 17 day care centres across Devon, the future of Oasis Day Centre remains in doubt.

The Oasis Day Care Centre in Barnstaple. Pic: Ben Stupples.The Oasis Day Care Centre in Barnstaple. Pic: Ben Stupples.

For more than a decade, three times a week, Oasis Day Centre has provided social activity for young disabled people—with activities varying from painting to knitting.

“Oasis is a happy family,” said Shana, who has been wheelchair-bound for several years due to a neurological condition.

“It’s a happy family because we’ve got high amounts of stress in our own families and before this we didn’t really have a life.”

Catherine added: “Oasis has given us purpose in life - I didn’t know where I should be before.”

Since 2011, when Catherine and Shana first discovered Oasis, which is open from Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm, both of them have used it twice a week.

Both of them, by chance, are also mothers to autistic children, the common ground on which Catherine and Shana originally became friends after meeting through Oasis.

“We need respite from home because it’s really stressful,” said Shana, who, besides being caring for her now-adolescent daughter, used to work as a healthcare assistant at Oakhampton Community Hospital.

“It’s really hard work with autistic children.”

Catherine, who is a mother of four, added: “For it to be closed down will affect a lot of people’s mental health—not just those that attend Oasis, but also the families that need that time to have a breather, and for us to feel like normal humans.”

Before she discovered Oasis, Shana, originally from West Devon, spent five-and-a-half years at home, where she struggled to adapt to her disability and battled with depression.

In search of a ‘better quality of life,’ she then moved to North Devon—only to have ‘a small taste of it’ before the council jeopardised Oasis’s future.

Without Oasis Day Centre, which the council has relocated from Alexandra Road to Rosebank Day Centre’s dining room—despite spending public funds on new disabled toilets in the old premises—Catherine openly worries about ‘a future of isolation.’

“I was housebound for pretty much two years,” she said.

“I was quite introverted when I first came here, and I was very dubious of everything. But, through Oasis, I’ve learned to cope better with what I’ve got and how to handle things.”

Shana, meanwhile, who says she has learnt a host of ‘new crafts and abilities’ since she first started attending Oasis, frets about her own life becoming ‘stagnant’ again.

In total, while the future of Oasis Day Care centre still remains unclear, five day centres—Beech House in South Molton; Burrow House in Ilfracombe; Springfield and Quayside in Bideford; and a hub at the Plough in Torrington—are set to close.

At a site yet to be decided, Oakwell, Silverhill, Rosebank, Tarka and Barnstaple’s Greenfields day centres will all be retained as part of a new ‘integrated service.’

Refuting Catherine and Shana’s claim that their close-knit group will not be kept together in the future, a Devon County Council spokesman said: “Users of the day service at the Oasis will continue to receive support during the day, as a group.

“The council is allocating the group a facilitator to work with them and to see what they want to do during the day, and to help them organise what support they need