Wiltshire Council have been accused of “playing ostrich” over the proposed closure of Furlong Close, in Rowde.

The facility houses 34 disabled people in self-contained flats, and also has a day centre for non-residents.

Plans were initially announced to close the residential complex last year – but the June closure date was postponed due to the pandemic.

Charity operator Hft have now sent letter to families stating their plans to withdraw all services from Wiltshire due to the handling of the closure by Wiltshire Council.

Written by Hft’s executive director of operations Becs Gratton, it apologises to families for the distress caused.

It adds that a stalemate has been reached over Wiltshire Council’s alleged refusal to admit it is their duty to commission services at the site.

Campaigners claim the letter highlights the “appalling way in which this matter is being handled” by Wiltshire Council.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Villagers of Rowde oppose the closureVillagers of Rowde oppose the closure

In the letter, Hft says that the way in which Wiltshire Council has, since November 2019, handled the proposed closure of Furlong Close has led to “a deterioration and loss of trust” by it in Wiltshire Council which is so serious that its relationship with the council has become “untenable”.

The situation has been so severe, that the charity has decided to withdraw altogether from the provision of care in Wiltshire.

Liberal Democrat group leader on Wiltshire Council Ian Thorn said: “This letter to residents lays open an alternative story of Wiltshire Council’s role in the threatened closure of Furlong Close.

“The treatment of these vulnerable residents has been truly appalling and unforgivable. If the accusations laid against Wiltshire Council in this letter are true. Resignations should follow.”

Noël Woolrych, Labour Party Candidate for Devizes East, has been supporting the families alongside fellow Labour candidate Rachael Ross.

He said: “The way the residents and their families have been treated can only be described as shabby and is causing considerable distress.

“Playing ostrich does not make the problem go away.”

Mrs Ross added: "It is time for the council leadership to stop hiding behind legal proceedings, be honest about why they are so firmly attached to the closure of this much loved care home, and talk with families and supporters to find a better way forward."

Emma Bagley, Hft’s Divisional Director for the South West told the Gazette that “for some time” the Furlong Close facility has been underfunded by Wiltshire Council.

She said: “At the end of last year, the planned date for closure of June 2021 was lifted, in part due to the impact of the second wave of the pandemic, and the request made by Wiltshire Council following requests to them from some residents that their planned care assessments be delayed.

“However, recent discussions have culminated in Hft being unable to find a constructive way forward with Wiltshire Council. While it was a mutually agreed commitment that Wiltshire would cease commissioning residential care at Furlong Close, it had initially been our wholehearted intention to continue providing supported living services for individuals whose assessment of need indicated that this was the most appropriate form of support that Wiltshire should be commissioning for them.

“However, the charity has now reluctantly decided to withdraw from all services in Wiltshire as soon as appropriate future support can be found by the council. To do this, and allow Hft to remain financially viable over the coming months, we will end all of our current commercial arrangements with the council and enter into a new temporary agreement. This is purely a contractual change, and will not affect the day to day running of the service.

"This change in circumstance will require Wiltshire Council and other funding authorities to resume the reassessment process and ensure appropriate support is identified for everyone, including those who are keen to explore the options available to them to live elsewhere.”

Councillor Anna Cuthbert, who broke Conservative ranks to support the families last year, added: "I hope the people who can secure the future of Furlong Close show the compassion and leadership that this situation urgently calls for and work together to make sure that the vulnerable people in Furlong Close and their families, can have this worry and stress alleviated."

Mrs Cuthbert hopes an agreement can be made to ensure the residents can continue to live in Rowde.

Hft has informed Wiltshire that it is willing to make the Rowde site available to the council for a period of time, should they wish to commission services from Furlong Close in the future from other providers.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Councillor Anna Cuthbert branded the debacle 'appalling'Councillor Anna Cuthbert branded the debacle 'appalling'

Hft will be meeting with staff and families in the coming days to answer any questions they may have.

Wiltshire Council has been contacted for comment.

Update: The council has announced the future of Furlong Close will be discussed at next week's full council meeting. Read more here.

Built in the 1990s, the aim of campus-style facilities like Furlong Close was to provide a mix of independent living and on-site support.

But these type of facilities have been criticised by some for stigmatising disabled people by separating them from the local community and encouraging dependency on staff.

Adults with learning disabilities have since been encouraged to live in smaller, community-based settings, designed to allow them more control, independence and social integration.

While the decision is supported by some, a number of Furlong Close families say their relatives would struggle and not be able to cope with the change.

A petition over the closure of the facility can be found here