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Wick care home, opened eight years ago at a cost of £1.2 million, could close by Christmas

By Gordon Calder

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A care home in Wick could close by Christmas, leaving residents wondering where they will spend the festive season and staff facing an uncertain future.

The Avonlea home in West Banks Avenue – opened at a cost of £1.2 million eight years ago – is run by Highland Council which was served with an improvement notice by the Care Inspectorate on November 28.

It gave the local authority two weeks to make "significant improvement in provision of the service" or its registration of the facility would be cancelled. That would mean the home could be shut on December 12.

Checks were carried out on Avonlea by the Care Inspectorate in July this year and a subsequent report listed a number of complaints.

Avonlea care home in Wick could be closed by Christmas
Avonlea care home in Wick could be closed by Christmas

A young adult resident at the home told the Caithness Courier that Avonlea is going to close before Christmas, leaving her and another person homeless. She also claimed the move could result in potential redundancies among staff.

She said if the service is being de-registered, staff won’t be able to work. "We were promised from July that the staff would provide outreach support when we moved on – two of us are genuinely being made homeless with zero support. Just been told we will be closed before Christmas."

She added: "What young people and staff have faced since July, I would call institutional abuse. We don’t know where we’re going to spend Christmas.

"Care experienced young people struggle enough with Christmas as it is, and now we may either be ripped away from those closest to us, or preparing to be. We all deserve so much better than what we’ve been faced with for the last few years."

It is understood that a manager up from another children’s home has been sent to Wick to commence the de-licensing of Avonlea.

Wick and East Caithness Highland councillor Jan McEwan said: "There are still three young adults there, one is going to a private children’s home but I don’t know what is happening with the other two and the 17 employees and three part-time workers don’t know what is going to happen to them. It's an absolutely shocking way to treat employees and young adults."

Jan McEwan, Provost of Wick, said it is "an absolutely shocking way to treat employees and young adults." Picture: DGS
Jan McEwan, Provost of Wick, said it is "an absolutely shocking way to treat employees and young adults." Picture: DGS

Cllr McEwan said Highland Council has until December 12 to rectify the issues or lose its licence for the home.

She added: "I have spoken with senior officials on numerous occasions and the problem is the information they are given is not consistent. They need to be more open and transparent to all involved and advise everyone what they have planned for Avonlea, with appropriate timescales and arrangement for staff and service users."

A Highland Council spokesman said: "Highland Council officers continue to work closely with the Care Inspectorate who are aware of our planned closure of this service. There continues to be careful planning for each child and those young adults involved."

It is understood that an emergency meeting on the home was to take place on Monday or Tuesday this week but it is not known if it went ahead.

The future of the facility was raised at last week's meeting of the Thurso Community Council. Local Highland councillor Matthew Reiss said he had been told by a senior officer that the home was set to close although there was no indication of the timescale.

Minutes secretary Morris Campbell asked who makes these decisions – "unaccountable officials or councillors" – and stressed that Avonlea was only opened eight years ago and cost over £1 million. Iain Gregory said the councillors should be making the decisions.

Cllr Reiss stressed the local authority said the home was to close and then changed its mind, but he has now been told it is due to shut.

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