'There is nowhere else to go': Northampton service for some 300 deaf people faces being cut by a quarter

Deaf Connect in Spencer is facing having its funding cut by a quarter if the county council removes its yearly grant. Pictured are service user Lauren Jones and CEO Joanna Steer.
Deaf Connect in Spencer is facing having its funding cut by a quarter if the county council removes its yearly grant. Pictured are service user Lauren Jones and CEO Joanna Steer.

A Northampton service which helps around 300 deaf people in the county live independently could have its funding cut by the county council.

Deaf Connect, based at the Dallington Spencer Community Centre, helps put its users in touch with lip-reading classes, helps them to call vital services such as schools and doctors' surgeries and runs a job club among a long list of services.

But as part of its ongoing funding review Northamptonshire County Council is to consider cutting the £18,000-a-year grant it gives to the service.

Chief executive Joanna Steer says the loss of the money, a quarter of its overall budget, will have a huge impact.

"That will mean I'll have to consider cutting a member of staff - then how the heck are we going to deliver services moving forward?"

"Our demand is just getting bigger."

Deaf Connect runs a regular drop-in service for severely hearing-impaired people in the county to resolve a wide range of problems and operates with just 12 largely part-time members of staff.

"Accessing services for deaf people is almost impossible," said Mrs Steer. "To get benefits you need to make a phone call - or to book a doctors appointment or go to the hospital.

"Our drop-in service is packed. Queries can be anything from people saying 'my doorbell doesn't work' to someone needing help filling out their drivers' licence."

But the chief executive also fears that losing the county council grant will have a knock-on effect for attaining other grants.

Often, she said, services that don't receive a local authority grant are not seen as 'credible' in the eyes of large funders.

One of the users of Deaf Connect, Lauren Jones, has progressive hearing loss and has to use a mix of lip-reading and sign language to communicate.

The 32-year-old mother-of-three, from Wellingborough, said there is simply "nowhere else to go" for help.

She regularly uses the drop-in advocacy services to relay messages to her childrens' school and use the job club.

"Without it I would be quite lost," she said.

"I would be incredibly isolated. This helps me to integrate with society."

Northamptonshire County Council has launched a consultation to consider cutting the contract with Deaf Connect, with the results set to go back to the December cabinet meeting.

A spokesman for the authority said: “This consultation seeks to gather feedback and evidence from customers and key stakeholders about the impact of ending the council’s current funding arrangements only for the adult support service.

“The council wishes to understand the way in which the services are being used, any other support services people with hearing and/ or visual impairment in the county may access, and if the service were to be recommissioned, how could it be improved.

“The consultation outcomes will help to inform the development of decisions which could result in decommissioning the council funded elements of the services.

“The results of the consultation will be brought back to December Cabinet for consideration.

“Ending the county council funded contract will not end the totality of funding to these services as both have other funding sources at present.”