Northern Ireland

Funding row threat to Bridge centre in Antrim

Parents and carers of vulnerable adults say they're devastated that a training facility in Antrim for their loved ones is to close at the end of this month amid a row over funding.

The Bridge Association has been training people with learning difficulties for over 20 years.

It also gives them opportunities to live independently.

The centre faces bankruptcy if a row over funding isn't resolved by the end of May.

Brenda Delargy from Antrim has been attending the centre since it opened in 1988.

"I come here five days a week we do the kitchen, cleaning up, gardening, computers and all different things. If I didn't come here I would just be in the house.

"Here I get to see my friends and mix with people and the staff are just brilliant. I love it here.

"I'm hoping to get a job but haven't got one yet", she added.

The Bridge Association isn't just a lifeline for the trainees, it offers much needed respite to families of those with special needs.

Brian Adams' 21 year old nephew Adam has been coming to the Antrim centre for two years. He says he came straight from special school and the family are happy with the service.

"It (The Bridge Association) answered a prayer for us. He's a big strong strapping guy. He may be educationally challenged, he may not learn the way we do but he still needs to be challenged in some way and to feel he's a value in society.

"Here he does that. He calls this his work. He's comes to work with his workmates every day."

Another parent, Graeme Maze, says his son Richard has attended the centre for four years.

"over the past four years Bridge has catered for almost every aspect of Richard's needs, whether it's socially, psychologically, academically. Richard does NVQ Level ones here.

"We researched it we spoke to educationalists and clinicians, they all said these were the methods they'd recommend. To lose it would be criminal."

The Bridge Association says the Northern Trust is to blame for the crisis because it's reneged on an agreement and cut the funding it promised by around £7,000 a month leaving the facility facing a debt of around £20,000.

The Association has already informed parents about the pending closure and staff have been put on one month's protected notice.

The managing director of Bridge Association Jacqueline Barnes says money was borrowed from the bank to run its facilities on the understanding that the Trust would pay out as promised.

"If the trust would just honour what they signed up to then we will be here past the 31 May, if they don't then we'll have to close," she said.

Problems arose when the Bridge Association were given the three month extension to their current agreement from March until May to facilitate the negotiation of a new contract with the Northern Trust.

That has yet to happen after the Association said it took legal advice on a proposed contract and were advised not to sign it.

In a statement the Northern Trust said it "increased its funding to Bridge on an interim basis to allow the service to continue and to give time to agree with Bridge how the service could be sustained into the future.

"This level of funding is in line with what Bridge indicated they required to continue to maintain the scheme and is not materially different from that provided last year.

"This funding is and remains available to the Association pending the agreement of the SLA issued in March 2012 which has not been returned. There is absolutely no financial reason for this service to close and the Trust continues to urge Bridge to enter into an agreement with us to secure the future of the service for all those attending."