A fine balance to keep

Inside Sue Ryder Care s magnificent 15th century building, overlooking Ely s Palace Green, residents feel at home. Its grand sweeping staircase, beamed bedrooms in the eaves and breath-taking chapel with its stained glass windows make it a splendid place

Inside Sue Ryder Care's magnificent 15th century building, overlooking Ely's Palace Green, residents feel at home.

Its grand sweeping staircase, beamed bedrooms in the eaves and breath-taking chapel with its stained glass windows make it a splendid place in which to live.

But now the charity is facing a major challenge. New legislation is forcing it to find a new base in the city for its 42 residents. LESLEY INNES reports

SUE RyderCare has announced plans to quit the Grade I listed Bishop's Old Palace and sell the lease to the city's King's School for a sixth form centre and boarding house.

But, balancing the need for modern surroundings to provide the most up-to-the-minute care while still creating a homely atmosphere is a tall order for the charity which deals with people with brain diseases and injuries.

"We are getting together a work group so that all the staff can have an input in what they would like to see in the new building," said centre manager, Rachael Watts. "The residents will also have a say, and for those who are unable to contribute we will be speaking to family and friends.

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"The residents like being in the city centre with a garden. Moving into a purpose-built building with new equipment and more space so residents can have single rooms will be good, but we need to be careful where we put that building.

"This move is not a closure and it's not about the care we provide here because that is excellent. But under new legislation we must be able to offer every resident a single room and that's not possible in this old building."

Bedrooms split across two floors with communal rooms at ground level, ancient lifts with a will of their own and bedrooms with low ceiling height do not make life easy for the nursing staff, who care for residents aged between 18 and 65.

Some residents suffer from progressive illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis and Motor Neurone Disease while others have suffered brain injuries as a result of accidents.

Road crash victim, Adrian, 40, has lived at the home for the past eight years since damaging his brain when his car smashed into a tree in Australia.

The accident destroyed his plans for a new life Down Under and, after months of hospital treatment, Adrian was brought to the Sue Ryder Care home where he lives permanently.

"The first time I came here I thought 'Oh my God'," he said. "Ninety-five per cent of the people were old. But it's better now and there are a lot of young people here.

"I was so fed up in the beginning. But I've got a lot better, a lot more positive minded. It's no good hiding in the corner. You have to make the best of it."

Residents recently enjoyed a holiday in the Lake District where they were able to take part in climbing and abseiling among other activities at a special centre for the disabled.

Staff and volunteers also organise a range of activities at the Ely centre for residents.

Volunteer Terry Abbott, 74, has been helping out since his wife spent four years there following a brain haemorrhage.

His connection with Sue Ryder Care four days a week not only helps the residents but has been vital for Terry in coming to terms with life alone after his wife died.

"The residents rely on me coming in and it gives me somewhere to go," he said.

Former brewery worker, Terry, teaches the residents how to make models from matchsticks and his creations include a model of Ely Cathedral, bought by Adrian's parents and displayed in the parish church near their home in Balsham.

In the reception area at the centre there is also a fantastic model of the Bishop's Old Palace as it would have been in the 17th century, which has been crafted from 30,000 matchsticks.

Over the course of a week at the Bishop's Old Palace, musicians entertain in the lounge, residents take part in exercise and others amuse themselves with computer games.

In the kitchens, staff prepare meals using fresh produce, the chapel is still used for services and there has even been a wedding.

There are pretty bedrooms tucked away in the eaves and decorated with posters and pictures and some residents who are able go shopping into the city centre.

With all this activity taking place in such magnificent surroundings, it is difficult to remember that this centre is providing constant care for some very disabled people.

But on the top floor the nurses' station is similar to that found in any busy hospital and staff are working constantly.

It is this fine balance that the charity is so keen to replicate in its new home.