Published: November 24, 2011
by TOM FOOT
WORLD-famous author Sir Terry Pratchett, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, has backed calls for a day centre that supports those with the disease to be saved from closure.
The fantasy writer has urged Camden Council to “withdraw the proposal to close Netherwood Day Centre” in West Hampstead and called on officials to “safeguard the future” of the “very precious resource”.
Sir Terry, who was knighted for services to literature and has sold more than 70 million books, has added his name to an online petition, his agent confirmed this week.
In 2007, Sir Terry was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and later made a BBC documentary about his experiences.
He was joined this week by playwright Alan Bennett and his fellow Beyond the Fringe writer Jonathan Miller who have both signed the petition.
Roundhouse chief Sir Torquil Norman and the CND co-founder Bruce Kent also voiced concerns over the council’s plan to create a single care centre in Greenwood Place in Kentish Town.
The project has been thrown into disarray following the threat of a costly High Court challenge from Camden lawyers and mounting criticism from experts this week including the chairwoman of Camden Age UK.
Camden Council has called a public meeting tonight (Thursday) to discuss its proposal to sell four day centres – Raglan in Kentish Town, Highgate, New Shoots and Netherwood in West Hampstead – to help finance the new one.
People suffering with Alzheimer’s, dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism and adults with acute learning difficulties would for the first time be cared for under one roof.
Mr Bennett, who lives in Primrose Hill, said: “The more local these centres are, the better. Family members need to be able to drop in. If the centre is local this makes a great difference to the quality of the service.”
But care chiefs believe a single, centralised building is the only way of securing care services in Camden following devastating cuts from the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition government. They are concern- ed that people will “buy” care from other boroughs if they do not have a state-of-the-art centre. Mr Miller is a former president of the Alzheimer’s Society whose mother, the writer Betty Miller, suffered early onset Alzheimer’s and died aged 53. He opened the Netherwood centre 25 years ago and photographs of Mr Miller cutting the ribbon still hang inside the building in Netherwood Street.
Speaking about Greenwood, he said: “It is a short-sighted and inhumane project. Camden gets very excited about building big new buildings.
“But often they are just a monument to themselves rather than facilities for others.”
Janet Guthrie – the newly elected chairwoman of Camden Age UK – said a similar centre was set up in the 1980s in south London leading to wide-ranging problems.
She said: “Older people found the presence of people with learning disabilities intimidating and unacceptable. Many with physical difficulties feared that sharing facilities with people with learning disabilities and mental health service users would exacerbate the assumptions made by public and some staff about their mental capacity.
“Carers of older people were concerned about the threat they perceived to the safety and the peace of their relatives.
“The project seems likely to reduce the wellbeing of users. It certainly will impact on the council’s commitment to inclusiveness and diversity. I hope the council will reconsider.”
Meanwhile, lawyers acting for a carer at the New Shoots centre said the consultation itself was “woefully lacking in detail”, flawed and unlawful.
Richard Stein, head of human rights at Leigh Day & Co solicitors, said: “Local authorities must provide sufficient information in their consultations to enable consultees to respond properly.”
He said if the consultation was not stopped he would apply to the High Court for a judicial review hearing.
A Camden Council spokeswoman said: “Specialist services, such as dementia services, could have their own dedicated space within a new building as well as being able to access a range of other services that could support them to remain in the community. We would like to emphasise that no decisions have been made about whether or not this proposal should go ahead or what services will be included.”
The consultation ends on December 9.
In February, the council’s cabinet will debate the findings and decide whether to draw up a business case for the new centre.
The council has commissioned architects PCKO who will respond to questions at the public meeting in Kentish Town Library tonight (Thursday) from 7pm.