Esperance families, shire pledge action following Activ departure

Family's fight: Paddy Rule, Jenny Johnston, Trevor Bale, Ian Mickel, Elaine Rule, Basil Parker and Tammie Bale stand united following the announced closure. Photo: Sarah Makse.
Family's fight: Paddy Rule, Jenny Johnston, Trevor Bale, Ian Mickel, Elaine Rule, Basil Parker and Tammie Bale stand united following the announced closure. Photo: Sarah Makse.

Families have been left reeling following the shock announcement that Activ Esperance would close its doors on March 31.

The organisation provided support, accommodation and employment opportunities for people with disabilities in Esperance for more than 40 years.

About 12 families will be impacted by the closure of the Shelden Road workshop and the Read House supported accommodation, the only one of its kind in the region.

Activ executive manager operations south Amanda Lovelock said the decision to close followed an extensive review, which included consultation with customers, families, staff and the community.

"We believe that moving forward, we are not the most suitable provider of disability services in Esperance," she said.

"There is no single reason why we are closing our service, it is not isolated to, nor directly related to funding."

Trevor Bale's two daughters Carla and Carassa have worked in the Activ workshop for more than 25 years.

After being informed of the closure last week, he said his family were "devastated by how Activ have handled themselves".

"They are up at 5.30 in the morning dressed and waiting to go at eight o'clock, these are committed people," he said.

"They finish a task and they feel good, a day for them here is an awesome day. Without it, it is going to be very hard.

"That is why we say we are not going to be without it, because it is our job and our mission to keep it going.

"We will find the right provider that appreciates what these people can give to our community."

Mr Bale said the loss was not only a blow to families but to the valued local staff.

"Those carers are hurting because they know they have to look after these people, that's who they are," he said.

"Those carers have done an awesome job and they are going to stay, they have not lost their jobs they have just lost a provider."

Jenny Johnston's daughter Waiata had been attending Activ since she left school 15 years ago.

An emotional Mrs Johnston said her daughter attended the workplace alongside her best friends.

"I believe in our family and loved ones being able to work, I want her to be able to have a work component in her life, she loves what she does," she said.

"She has two very special friends and they love being together and doing things together.

"They support each other and they encourage each other. It's just lovely, but they won't get that as much.

"There have been a lot of people in the community who have put a lot of money into keeping this place afloat.

"Now we feel like Activ just want to walk out and leave us high and dry, it's just awful, absolutely awful.

"It came out from nowhere, none of us had any idea."

Paddy Rule's son Michael has worked with Activ for 28 years.

Mr Rule said Michael took great pride in his work and the decision to close was "gut-wrenching".

"What we are more worried about is the brutal way in which the notification of the closure of Read House and Activ workshops was presented with no prior advisement of closure," he said.

"Activ advised families involved that Activ Esperance was not financially viable which we find pretty hard to take.

"People have put years and years of raising money and doing the right thing by our children, these buildings have been built through a community effort. To be kicked in the teeth like this is, it's not on."

Shire of Esperance president Ian Mickel has pledged to work with families, Activ and other local providers to aid the transition to other local NDIS services.

A community meeting was held on January 13 to connect families and providers and to find an alternative to the shared employment opportunities offered at Activ.

He said he would work to return the buildings to the community following Activ's departure from the region.

"The Esperance community have raised a lot of money that they have put into all of these buildings, both Read House and the workshop on Shelden Road," he said.

"If they want to leave we can find other people to provide the service, but if they think they are taking money out of this community by selling the facilities they've got a big fight on their hands."

Ms Lovelock said she was not yet able to provide a statement on the future of the properties.

"We have not made decisions on the arrangements regarding the two Activ properties, but would be happy to share this information when it is available," she said.

"Our priority remains to support our customers through this difficult transition period to ensure we reduce, where possible, the amount of disruption that occurs for them.

"We are not in a position to make decisions on our customers behalf's, our role is to empower our customers to make the choice that is best for them."

Ms Lovelock thanked the Shire of Esperance for its support and said it was the organisation's intent for customers to remain living in Read House.

"The four individuals that live in Read House will have their choice in who they would like to provide their services," she said.

"We recognise that this is limited choice within a small region, however that choice remains with them.

"We cannot make that decision on their behalf, we can only provide information on organisations who have expressed interest to deliver that service and then it is their decision to make."

Following the announcement, local disability service providers have stepped forward to assist families impacted by the closure.

Goldfields Individual and Family Support Association acting chief executive officer Jason Hall said the organisation had been in discussion with Activ to offer support to clients of Read House.

"The clients will always retain the choice to use whichever agency they want to use," he said.

"As an agency we've got experience in group homes and group accommodation support which forms a large part of our business.

"We were approached by Activ to see if we could be a transfer partner for those people who live in the group accommodation house and because it fits well within the realm of our experience we said that yes, provided the families are happy, that we would definitely talk to those families about how that situation could transfer across with as little disruption as possible."

Cam Can managing director Steve Robinson said the organisation supported a number of families in Esperance, providing one-one support arrangements available 24/7.

He said the organisation could assist individuals to tailor employment opportunities to their personal strengths.

"I think this is a really sad thing to happen, but at the same time it presents opportunities for people to think a little bit differently about the ways the supports are provided to their sons, daughters or themselves" he said.

"We are more than willing to have conversations with people around that."