THE FAMILY of a victim of institutional abuse in Muckamore Abbey Hospital are calling for her and other residents of a Glen Road supported living complex to have access to a courtyard at the side of the property reinstated.
Speaking to the Andersonstown News, Laura Sharp's father Mark explained that his daughter was in Muckamore Abbey for 16 years and was abused there.
“She moved into the Mews Supported Living in March 2018," he said. "The first 18 months were brilliant. She had this outdoor space but in November 2019 the management changed and that space was taken off them and is now being used as a car park.
“We have been fighting with the Health Trust and the Cedar Foundation for over a year now. Our daughter was basically locked in her apartment for 23 and a half hours a day because they don’t have access to this space.”
Consisting of 12 homes, the Mews is sited in the grounds of the former Dympna House and was commissioned to resettle adults with serious learning disabilities and mental health issues from Muckamore Abbey, some of whom had been institutionalised for over 30 years.
The local family say that they have been given numerous reasons as to why the residents no longer have access to the area, including a claim that it is used for service vehicles and bin lorries.
“We were eventually told that there weren't enough parking spaces. When we were told this, we spoke to the Parish Priest at nearby St Teresa’s Parish who said the staff could park there for a small fee which we as a family offered to cover,” Mark said.
Laura's mother Marjorie added: “This didn’t help over Covid. It’s not even to do with social distancing as all the residents could not use the space at the same time anyhow.
“For the likes of birthday parties they have a big room and they can only have a couple of residents together at a time for various reasons.”
Laura returned to the family home on Christmas Eve where she has been living since.
Discussing how that has affected them, Mark continued: “My daughter has been here for six months now and it is hard work. We shouldn’t have had to bring our daughter home when she had a home of her own."
The family have now met with the Chief Executive of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Dr Cathy Jack, to discuss their concerns. The Trust told us that they cannot comment on individual cases.
Local SDLP rep Gerard McDonald has been engaging with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust on behalf of the family.
Gerard said: “Over the past 12 months we have all re-learned our gratitude for outside space, and this simple freedom should be afforded to everyone in society including those in supported living.
“I will be meeting with Dr Cathy Jack to progress the position of the Sharp family and the Trust. Cedar Living management and Choice Housing should move to quickly understand that as political representatives, where required, we will advocate to ensure a constituent's needs are met by providers and excuses built on sand will be quickly dismissed.
“The needs of the client should always be at the heart of any decision taken by supported living providers and in these circumstances that not been the case to date.”
The Cedar Foundation, who run the site, said: "The safety and wellbeing of all the service users we support at the Mews is our priority.
“While we cannot comment on individual service users, we are aware we are restricted by the site at the Mews in regard to the outside space we can use. All service users do have their own small courtyard as an individual outdoor space.
“We are currently working with the landlord, Choice Housing Association, to look at the feasibility of developing a safe space at the back of the Mews which will include a recreational, seating and BBQ area for use by all service users.
“We will do this in consultation with the service users, their families and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.”
A spokesperson for Choice Housing said: “The Mews is a bespoke supported living scheme providing 12 self-contained apartments with individual outdoor spaces enabling residents with complex needs to live within a community setting.
“The Association can advise that the area in question is a restricted area and is not part of the site originally commissioned by Belfast Trust. We can confirm that discussions are currently ongoing with Belfast Trust regarding the request.”