A “LIFELINE” respite home for children with learning difficulties is set to be shut by a council despite a last-ditch plea from families engaged in a ten-year fight to save it.

Lavender House, in Stanway, which offers overnight short breaks for children aged five to 18, was first threatened with closure in 2013 under Essex County Council plans.

The facility was given a three-year reprieve in 2019, with the council bidding to use the facility as emergency accommodation for children with disabilities in 2021.

But at a meeting on Tuesday, following a consultation with impacted families, the council’s cabinet voted to axe the facility – with bosses insisting demand can be met at its single remaining respite home in Harlow.

Beverley Egan, councillor responsible for children’s services, said the move would save around £54,000 per year which could be invested back into the service, but insisted the decision was “user-led” and not financial.

Gary Knowles, 50, whose son Ashley, 16, attends Lavender House for 60 nights per year, said Essex County Council had made “consistent threats” to close the “vital” service.

Gazette: Gary Knowles and son Ashley have relied on Lavender House for yearsGary Knowles and son Ashley have relied on Lavender House for years (Image: Newsquest)

Calling Lavender House “an absolute lifeline”, he said staff at the facility had helped his son “blossom into the beautiful young man he is today”.

Mr Knowles, a kitchen fitter from Great Holland, said: “Ashley respects them and he enjoys their company, it has been respite for him as well as for us.

“I can honestly say, hand on heart, without the support from Lavender House over the past 10 years, our family would have just broken apart we would have just not been able to cope.

“I used to spend nights in my van down the seafront just to get some sleep so I could work the next day.”

He said the closure of the facility would be “truly devastating” for future families in need, adding: “We cannot take our children to Harlow and why should we?

“Some of us are unable to get our children to the local shops, think of the disruption and anxiety these new plans would cause.

“So many of our children would just not cope in a shared care home environment and therefore need Lavender House. Our children deserve stability, inclusion and respect.”

Lorraine Woodhouse, 56, whose 17-year-old son Aidan has long attended Lavender House, fought back tears as she pleaded with councillors to spare the facility.

Gazette: Gary Knowles protesting over respite care, pictured with former children's services boss Dick Madden in 2019Gary Knowles protesting over respite care, pictured with former children's services boss Dick Madden in 2019 (Image: Newsquest)

She said her son has “severe and complex” needs and had received no support for the first six years after his diagnosis at the age of two.

His behaviour had a “major impact” on their relationship to the point she could no longer “do things together” with him as a family.

“I couldn’t cope with the abuse Aidan was giving to me, the final straw was when Aidan fractured my front teeth,” she said.

“Lavender House has been our saviour. It allowed us to spend time as a family and give Luke (Aidan’s brother), the quality time of both his mum and dad.”

She added: “I cannot stress how important the service has been to Aidan but also us as a family.

“Aidan will not travel a long distance, he self-harms even at traffic lights.

“This is just not an option for our family.”

'Other local options will be made available to famlies'

Ms Egan said the proposal will impact seven families currently using Lavender House and she pledged to ensure they “receive the most suitable care for their own situations”.

Gazette: Beverley Egan, Essex county councillor responsible for children's servicesBeverley Egan, Essex county councillor responsible for children's services (Image: Essex County Council)

She said the council would be able to offer an “improved, blended and diverse” respite service, adding an extra 1,500 overnight short breaks would be available for families.

She told the cabinet the move would allow for “up to 150 per cent more capacity” at weekends.

Ms Egan added: “This new blended offer will mean more children and families across Essex will benefit from an improved service, including services run by Essex County Council or external providers the council has commissioned.

“Families will not be expected to travel to alternative sites if this isn’t in the best interests of their child.

“There will be local options available and we will continue to work with families across Essex to find the best solution for them.”