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Sunderland man praises 'lifechanging' community

April 20, 2022

Sunderland man praises ‘lifechanging’ community

The son of a Sunderland woman who fought for a disability resource centre has praised a £1.4m new facility and community of adapted homes - the first properties to be built by the city council in more than 40 years.

John Starkey, 65, who lives with cerebral palsy, said his late-mother, Peggy, would be 'delighted', as her wish for disabled people in Sunderland to have access to support and assistance to enable them to enjoy a better quality of life has come true, with the opening of an exemplary new Sunderland City Council scheme in Hendon. 

Peggy - who died 13 years ago - campaigned for an activity centre in the 1970s, to support to people living with disabilities while providing respite to their carers, which led to the formation of the Northeast Disabilities Resource Centre (NDRC).  The charity - which was based out of an old property that was no longer fit for purpose - has now moved into a custom-designed facility, the Valiant Centre, at the heart of a new community of specially-adapted bungalows that have been designed specifically for people with physical disabilities. 

The new homes, which stand at the renamed Valiant Close - formerly Cork Street in Hendon - have been developed by Sunderland City Council as part of its £59m Housing Delivery and Investment Plan (HDIP), which will see some 117 bungalows built across the city by 2025, providing much-needed one-storey accommodation for people with disabilities and older residents.

John - whose mother was told he would not make it past infanthood - is one of the first residents to move into a property at Valiant Close, with eight new homes now occupied, and a further nine under construction, all of which - bar one - are adapted for people with disabilities.  John was chosen for the property based on his level of need, with the other residents also having been allocated a property based on a referral from the adult social care team.

He can walk from his home to NDRC to access a range of support and meet friends at the centre.

He said: "It's absolutely amazing, the new centre and the fact I have a home so close to it.  My new house is beautiful and is manageable for me, with the issues I have with my legs.  My last home had stairs and three bedrooms and - even though I am someone who never gives up - it was becoming difficult to live there on my own.

"I try to just get by myself if I can.  But now, in my new house, I will be able to manage much better.  It's got lots of new things that I am adjusting to, but it's a lovely home and much better for me to get around.  My family is happier too, knowing I am in a house that's safe and that's close to NDRC so I can get out and enjoy my days."

John, who has lived alone since his mother passed away, is supported by family, but most of his social interaction comes from his use of NDRC, which provides a range of activities including art and drama, for the people who use it.

"The centre is brilliant.  My mam would have been crying with happiness to see it.  She fought for me and for other people with disabilities all her life.  And look at this building.  It's amazing."

Set up more than 50 years ago, NDRC - which supports people with a range of disabilities including cerebral palsy - had been operating out of an old building at Cork Street, before the council committed to providing a new facility that would be more suitable for the needs of the people who use it, many of whom have severe issues with mobility.  Work was commissioned as part of the first council house development in more than 40 years.  Construction partner Tolent built the new centre, alongside the new homes that surround it, with the second phase due for completion by September.  

The new NDRC building includes a range of spaces that will be used by the 40+ people who attend it every day.  It includes flexible rooms that can be used for the activities it hosts for people who use it, as well as treatment rooms and adaptations to support people with physical disabilities.

Graham Scanlon, assistant director of housing and communities at Sunderland City Council, said: "We're thrilled for John, the other people who now call Valiant Close home, and the people who use NDRC that we have been able to provide them with a new community facility that will be so truly lifechanging. 

"The residents at Valiant Close will enjoy a home that is absolutely built to meet their needs, with adaptations and assistive technology to enable them to lead an independent life.  And with the Valiant Centre on the doorstep, they have easy access to support and assistance, at a place that will enrich their lives.  It's such an important development, and I am delighted to see the first phase of this community completed."

Stuart Johnson, general manager at NDRC, said: "The new centre is just wonderful.

"The services we offer are lifechanging already but being able to support people from a dedicated space that has more than doubled our capacity is just tremendous."

Valiant Close is one of a number of schemes that the council is leading as part of a programme that will deliver 193 accessible properties across the city by 2025, as well as 171 new homes providing supported accommodation - and the conversion of 210 empty properties, that will be brought back in the same timeframe.

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