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Tele's Mum of the Year Joyce joins the battle to keep open 'outstanding' care home

By Victoria O'Hara

A grieving mother who has a disabled son has vowed to fight to keep open a care home she describes as a "beacon of outstanding caring".

Joyce Craig lost her disabled daughter Nicola four years ago and in February her son Michael (25) died from a brain tumour.

While caring for Michael during his final days, she urgently needed respite care for her youngest son Christopher who has cerebral palsy and requires round-the-clock care. Michael passed away on February 2. The home in Bangor - Stewart Memorial - which provided respite care for 23-year-old Christopher and was praised as "amazing" by Joyce, is now under threat.

Joyce, who was named Belfast Telegraph Mum of the Year last month, said after battling to find her son a high standard of care during a time of crisis such vital facilities must remain open.

Last November relatives of the 18 residents of Stewart Memorial House, which is owned and run by the Northern Ireland Institute for the Disabled, were plunged into limbo when they were told that it is to close within a year as it is not financially viable.

A month later the owners postponed the closure to carry out further consultations. A decision has still not been reached.

This has led to relatives and carers still fearing for the future.

Joyce (58), from Bangor, Co Down, said: "I was able to spend the last two months with my oldest son before he died, because of Stewart Memorial.

"By being there and giving respite to Christopher they allowed me to have the final moments with Michael. If they were not there I would have been robbed of that precious time."

She said the news of Michael's illness came as an absolute shock and the family was plunged into crisis and needed help.

"Michael was diagnosed on August 11 and the news just devastated me. I phoned the social worker and said I need help and I needed Christopher looked after as I'm on my own. The South Eastern Trust told me, because Christopher is in a wheelchair, there was nowhere else for Christopher to go except an old people's home in Newtownards.

"I just couldn't believe that in this day and age there was nowhere else for him to be cared for.

"At one point I was in tears and I literally begged them over the phone to help find somewhere more suitable."

Joyce was finally told her son had a place in Stewart Memorial - which is just a short distance from where she lives.

"It had never been mentioned and it is five minutes from my home," she said.

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition in a bid to save Stewart Memorial House from closure.

Joyce is now determined that Christopher, along with the other residents, can stay or receive respite in the care home.

"I am at peace because Christopher is happy at Stewart Memorial - no money can buy that feeling.

"If it closes it will have such a devastating impact on not only the people who are cared for there but also their families.

"Stewart Memorial was so important to me - is so important to me. I will not rest until we can keep it open."

Belfast Telegraph


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