by Gareth Cross
Residents at a Derry care home have issued a heartfelt plea to the Western Trust to let them keep their home.
The trust have said that they plan to 'merge' William Street and Rectory Field Residential Homes as part of a £12.5m savings plan.
A protest against the merger was held by the 'Stop the Cuts' protest group outside William Street Residential Home on Friday.
Among those in attendance were representatives from UNISON, People Before Profit, NIPSA, Derry Trade Union Council and local independent councillors.
Speeches were made by Shaun Harkin from 'Stop the Cuts', Niall McCarroll from UNISON, Health worker Fiona Gallagher and independent councillor Darren O'Reilly amongst others.
Representatives from UNISON presented staff and residents with two bunches of flowers.
They also occupied the centre of William Street for a period to show their opposition to the cuts.
Upon hearing the commotion a number of residents from the home came out to join the protest and make their voices heard.
Matt Shiels said that he and the other residents of William Street just wanted to be left in peace.
"We just want to be left here to die," he said.
"We want to spend what time we have left here in dignity, this is our home."
Now 87, Mr Shiels said that he and the other residents were very happy in their environment.
"I understand that they have to make cuts but this a beautiful place, we couldn't ask for better," he said.
"The staff are excellent and all the residents are really happy here.
"It's like they have two milk bottles which are half full and they want to put it all into one and merge us."
Mr Shiels is a keen gardener and was recently awarded a prize by Age Concern for his garden at William Street.
"When I first came here the garden was nothing but weeds," Matt explained.
"I went to work and now we grow apples, strawberries and other various fruits and vegetables.
"It's a lovely area to come and sit and have a chat and a cup of tea when the weather is nice.
"There is a real sense of community here and we are like one big family."
Mr Shiels said that residents had no idea the protest was taking place.
"I was more than happy to take part," he said.
"We thought we had been forgotten about, nobody has come near us.
"You see plenty of politicians around when they want your vote but when you need something they are nowhere to be found. "
Monica Earnshaw also lives at William Street and said residents were concerned by the news.
"We're here to protest today, we don't want to move," she said.
"We are so happy and moving us would be a cruel thing to do.
"Please god we will get word saying that we are able to stay where we are.
Another resident at William Street Eileen McGinley joked she was considering chaining herself to the gates to stop any closure.
"I'll tie myself to the railings, I love it here and I'm not moving," she said.
"We are happy and one big family.
"The staff and scheme manager are very good to us and it would be hard to find nicer people anywhere."
Niall McCarroll, UNISON Branch Secretary, said that moving the residents from their homes could cost lives.
"They are being offered alternative accommodation and may have to move to another area," he said.
"Moving elderly people is proven to have a significant impact, particularly if they suffer from Alzheimer's or other dementia related issues.
"You think the trust would learn from history, Bell Gray House in Newtownards was closed down by the trust in August 2016.
"Since the announcement of the closure 16 people who lived at the care home have passed away, nearly half the residents.
Mr McCarroll said that the residents were enjoying life at the care home and did not want to leave.
"They enjoyed their lives there and they did not want to leave," he said.
"They had a good relationship with staff there and had entertainment and now 16 of them have died.
"There has been research done and clear evidence that moving people to new environments at an advanced age can have a significant impact.
He said that a number of the proposed cuts from the trust were being targeted at the elderly.
"Cuts always seem to target the most vulnerable people who can't stand up for themselves," he said.
"If a young family was being forced out of their homes people would be up in arms and this isn't any different."
Local independent councillor Darren O'Reilly said it was great to see so many people protesting against the closure.
"They shouldn't be attacking the most vulnerable people with these cuts," he said.
"These people have paid into the system all their lives and could be moved out of their community to somewhere like Omagh.
"We've seen elderly people here today asking to be left to die in peace, it's sad."
"What kind of society do we live in where people can't even be left to die with dignity? People should be ashamed.
"We are all going to get old and we need to fight now to make sure these facilities remain available for the community."
A video of Mr Shiels speaking at the protest can be viewed below:
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