Devastation as Sunderland respite centre announces it will close before Christmas

Geraldine Plunkett (left) and Audrey Turnbull at the Donna Claire Home in Seaburn Terrace, Sunderland

Geraldine Plunkett (left) and Audrey Turnbull at the Donna Claire Home in Seaburn Terrace, Sunderland

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A RESPITE home saved from the axe three years ago is to shut for good.

Tearful bosses at Donna Claire Venture, in Seaburn, have been forced to make the tough decision that the cash-strapped holiday home for people with severe disabilities will close on December 19.

Donna Gardiner with Elizabeth Denevan and Shelagh Cruikshank at  Donna Claire Venture house which is  is to close.

Donna Gardiner with Elizabeth Denevan and Shelagh Cruikshank at Donna Claire Venture house which is is to close.

Co-founders Geraldine Plunkett and Audrey Turnbull have been delivering the devastating news to families and people who use its facilities.

“Increasingly finances have become difficult, because of rising costs and local authority cut backs,” said Geraldine, who also manages the home.

“We can’t imagine our lives without Donna Claire and this is really sad for us. It hasn’t been a job to us, it has been part of our lives and an extension of our family life.

“It has been a huge privilege doing this and we have had so many laughs along the way.”

The lifeline holiday home came under threat in 2008 when the Echo launched a campaign to save it.

Kind-hearted readers dug deep to raise £100,000 to keep the charity open, but Geraldine said funds have dried up, leaving the home running at a deficit of about £2,500 a week.

“Three years ago we thought we were going to close,” Geraldine said.

“People reacted and gave us another three years, but the present economic climate is dire and there is nothing we can do.”

Raymond and Irene Barwick, of Lambton, have been using the holiday home for the last 18 years.

Irene, 63, spends 10 weeks a year there, giving her husband a much-needed break from caring for her.

“It’s terrible and I don’t know what we will do now,” she said. “They’re all like a loving family for me, it’s a home away from home.”

Raymond, 64, added: “They do a fantastic job there and it also gives me a break as well as Irene a holiday. It’s absolutely devastating.”

Geraldine and Audrey met during a trip to Lourdes in France in 1975.

They continued to meet every year, taking people with disabilities on a much-needed break.

They decided to fill a gap in the market and launch a holiday home offering respite care, and welcomed their first guest at The Donna Claire Venture in March 1992.

The pair said its success has always been down to the people of Sunderland.

“We want to thank everybody that has supported us in any way,” Geraldine added.

“I really think they should feel proud to have this in the area and they can all say they’ve had an input into this wonderful place where so many people have experienced such wonderful holidays.

“Families have had the freedom to go away and have holidays themselves.

“Many friendships have been made and we would never have achieved any of this without them.

“The people of Sunderland own Donna Claire. People have been so kind and continue to be, but at this stage we feel the costs are not sustainable.”

Twitter: @sunderlandecho