‘I’m fighting for my son, he doesn’t have a voice’

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The closure of a garden centre that’s contributed to countless Ulster in Bloom awards for Derry over the years has sparked anger among workers and their families.

Users of the Ashbrook centre in Ardmore, closed by its operator, New Horizons, last Friday, have vowed to overturn the decision.

For more than a decade Kevin O’Kane’s son Cathal (30) has made the short journey from Claudy to work at what’s become a home-from-home.

Mr. O’Kane believes the closure of the centre has negative ly affected his son’s health.

“We were told it was to close temporarily but now the gates have been shut for good,” said Mr. O’Kane.

“They’ve been taxiing the boys up to [the New Horizons centre] Strabane. How much is that costing?

“Down there [Ashbrook] was a home for them, they were comfortable, they had their friends. Since it’s closed he’s been in bad form, slamming doors when he’s in the house. The doctor’s said his blood pressure is away up,” he continued.

Over the years many of the decorative planters and flower beds that have helped secure so many civic horticultural awards have been produced at Ashbrook. No more, unless there’s an eleventh hour reprieve. The ‘Journal’ understands the closure was prompted by the redundancy of its long-standing manager George Hawthorne.

New Horizons, however, told the paper that the closure is an internal matter for its board and that it is not yet in a position to comment publicly.

SDLP councillor Jim McKeever, one of the original founders of the Ashbrook project 30 years ago, said he wants the centre re-opened.

Colr. McKeever, who will raise the matter at next week’s full meeting of Derry City & Strabane District Council, said: “I’ll do all in my power to reestablish Ashbrook on its own merits as a stand alone service provider.”

Mr. O’Kane said: “As far as I’m concerned I’m fighting for my son, he doesn’t have a voice but I do.”