Hundreds fight to save under-threat Wolverhampton garden centre

More than 400 people have signed a petition to save an under-threat garden centre which provides work for people with learning disabilities.

Shop steward Nick Kelleher, of Unison, said around 420 people had signed up to a campaign to save Old Tree Nursery in Pendeford after the council announced plans to close it by October this year.

The council announced the proposals in June as part of a ?25 million package of cuts.

Cabinet member for adults services Councillor Steve Evans said the centre, which provides jobs for nine workers with mild learning disabilities, would need at least ?200,000 invested in it to make it viable.

However Mr Kelleher said the centre in Pendeford Hall Lane had lost income from a number of poor decisions by the authority, including a previous move to close the nursery at weekends.

He said the decision would have a devastating impact on the people who worked at the centre.

“Many of them have worked there since it opened 28 years ago, and helped build it up from waste ground to what it is today,” he said.

“Among them they constitute over five per cent of the council’s entire number of disabled employees.”

Councillor Evans said a review of Old Trees Nursery was carried out in 2009 and a business plan drawn up.

“This plan identified that it would require a minimum of ?200,000 to be invested in Old Trees Nursery to modernise the infrastructure to make it a viable enterprise,” he said.

“The council will refocus its effort to find real paid employment for people with disabilities in the city rather than sheltered employment or subsidised employment.”

Councillor Evans added that this would make people feel part of

their community rather than part of a day-centre type environment.

“People living in Wolverhampton will see more evidence of people with disabilities taking an active part in the life of the city.”

However, day centre officer at Old Trees Nursery Terence Timmins(COR) said those employed would find it difficult to find jobs elsewhere.

“Some are still learning to read and write,” he said.

“Some of them have physical disabilities, they are wheelchair-bound.”

Mr Timmins added that if the centre closed, it would put the workers on the unemployment register and would put pressure on the benefits system.

A public consultation on the plans is expected to be launched in the coming weeks.

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