Campaigners wait to learn fate of Freefield Centre
Pensioners will head to the town hall on Wednesday for a special council meeting to hear the final decision on Lerwick’s Freefield Centre, due for closure on 31st May.
The council has been recommending closure of the centre, which provides cheap lunches for older people, since last year, and is seeking approval for this.
Closure would save the council £80,000 per year but the recommendation has met stiff resistance from the centre’s users.
Freefield campaigner Doreen Williamson said: “It will be a very sad day if it closes. We’ve done our best to fight it.”
None of the lunch club users has any idea what will happen now, she said. Alternative venues, including Islesburgh, had been mooted but no definite arrangements have been made.
The voluntary sector showed interest in taking the lunch club over. Various proposals have been considered, but the limitations of the building make this impracticable.
Voluntary Action Shetland wanted to take over the lease and use the building for their carers’ support service, and day services as well as continuing the lunch club.
WRVS wanted to develop a cafe and run the lunch club, the British Red Cross wanted to use the building for a training venue and have the basement for storage and the New Life Church wanted to run a cafe and convert the basement into a “skills centre”. Social enterprise COPE wanted to renovate the building with a kitchen suitable for their catering business as well as continuing the lunch club, and the Moving On Employment Project offered support with maintenance and cleaning of the building.
However the council explored these options with the groups and found the basement was not suitable for either use or storage.
Installing a catering kitchen on the ground floor would take up too much space. Additionally the building needs work costing more than £70,000 to bring it up to standard.
The pensioners do not want to move from the location and do not want to lose their existing staff. They offered to increase the cost of their meals from £3.50 to £5 and to shut on Saturdays, operating on weekdays only, but this would not yield enough to cover maintenance, upgrading and cost of staff.
Spending on Freefield, the council said, would breach its medium term financial plan. In any case it is a “discretionary” service, not available in other parts of Shetland. However people with “assessed needs” will still be catered for in some way.
For a full report on Wednesday’s meeting, see this week’s Shetland Times.