15th August 2018
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Freefield: ‘Bought by BP, sold out by SIC’

There was a sombre mood at the town’s Freefield Centre on Wednesday as pensioners gathered for their last lunch at their much-loved venue.

Around 30 of them tucked into a meal, but the atmosphere was subdued. One of the staff said: “It’s like leaving home.”

Many had been coming to the lunch club since it opened in 1977 and said they could hardly believe what was happening. All expressed their deep sadness, with some criticising councillors and officials for not being more interested in the situation. Others gave vent to their anger – a poster on the wall read: “Bought by BP, sold out by SIC.”

Phyllis Hunter, who had worked as a care assistant at the centre in those early days, said: “I can’t believe it. There are no social work people here, and where are the councillors who said they would try and save it? It’s cruel.”

 Diners were in sombre mood during the last lunch at the Freefield Centre. Photo: Stephen Gordon

Diners were in sombre mood during the last lunch at the Freefield Centre. Photo: Stephen Gordon

Her sister Agnes Johnson, who had worked there at the same time, said: “I didn’t expect this.”

Lunch club stalwart Ivy Cluness echoed the same sentiments: “No councillors and no social services heads of department have been to see how we’re getting on.”

Member Tammy Tait was deeply upset, and said: “We’re all so disappointed. We’re an easy option.”

Jimmy Blance said: “It’s utterly disgusting, this carry on. It’s been a paper shuffle and ended up in nothing but a big farce. As the former provost Bill Smith said, it’s more than just a lunch club. Lots of people only see people here, they don’t see anyone until the next day.”

Jimmy Wiseman said that all the Lerwick councillors, plus some from further afield, had pledged to do their utmost to save the centre. He said: “They were all cadging for votes then,” and remarked they had as many faces as the town hall clock.

Veteran of 20 years at the lunch club Margaret Batty summed up the feeling: “It’s a very sad day for wis all. It’s the end of an era. The staff have been very good and helpful and we’re going to miss them very much.”

However all agreed the staff at Islesburgh, where the lunch club will meet in future, had been very helpful. But it would not be the same, they felt, as there would be no meals on Saturdays and none over Christmas and New Year, and uncertainty about provision during festivals.

Full report in Friday’s Shetland Times.

About Rosalind Griffiths

I am a Shetland Times reporter covering news, including health stories, and features. I have been in Shetland for more than 30 years.

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6 comments

  1. you can judge the council by the way they treats pensioners

    Reply
  2. who voted these council in I bet there heads are down in shame more money for the marreal centre

    Reply
  3. Jonathan Wills

    You can’t win, can you? No, it was not possible, in the end, to keep Freefield going. I’m sorry about that. I tried my best for over a year. But councillors did finally vote to continue the lunch club service – at Islesburgh, a venue most small towns in Scotland would envy – and also managed to secure a budget for it.

    Yet apparently we don’t care about pensioners and do nothing for them.

    Contrary to a comment by an interviewee on Radio Shetland, Islesburgh does have disabled toilets, on the ground floor. It also has a lively social atmosphere, with folk of all ages using its excellent facilities. Pensioners are as welcome as toddlers and teenagers. There’s a fully equipped kitchen, where Freefield had none, and the staff are kindly and competent.

    In these circumstances, a slightly more positive attitude to the change of venue might have been more appropriate.

    Reply
  4. Stewart Mack

    You are right Jonathan (wow didnt think i would be saying that) You cant win.

    Stangely enough, People do realise that change is inevitable, particularly in these times of austerity and ever tightening Council budgets but the Council apparently dont care about pensioners, which is a pity as some will undoubtedly be relying on Council services to the elderly sooner rather than later.

    But tell me, were the Councillor unaware of the public outcry at the closure of the Freefield Centre? Had they forgotten the depth of feeling within the community, not just the elderly?

    I presume they must as i can see absolutely no reason why no Councillors, officials or Social Workers deemed it worthy to be present on the last day. Perhaps to offer the reassurance to the pensioners that the change of venue would be suitable for them, it would be ok and pretty soon they would settle in and enjoy the new home. That to me, would have simply been common decency if not a formal role of the Social Work Department. From a political stand point it seems that some have missed a trick, some good PR might have came as a result

    Nevermind though eh? wont be long before another furore takes over and the closing of the Freefield Centre will fade into a distant memory. Afterall we have the Court challenge with Sustainable Shetland coming up, I wonder how much its costing for the Council/Trusts lawyers to be keeping a “watching brief” as it was described by some.Plainly a high priority (to some) at least. But by then the elections may be looming and some Councillors may just realise to their cost that some have significantly longer memories than they might be given credit for.

    This has, in my view, never been about an inability to change, or adapt, but has been an issue of priorities in a socially inclusive society. It seems that at least some parts of the Shetland Islands Council, Its elected members and officials, still have a way to go on that front.

    Reply
  5. Jonathan Wills

    No, I wasn’t at Freefield on the last day. I was at a meeting about the business of the Shetland Charitable Trust, which includes most Shetland pensioners among its beneficiaries. But I was at Islesburgh Community Centre the following day, double checking on the arrangements for the new lunch club venue. I discovered that there are actually five disabled toilets in the building, including one with full disabled changing facilities.
    The friendly Islesburgh staff already cater for many pensioners (including me!) and I can assure readers they’re looking forward to welcoming the Freefield lunch club guests in the pleasant, airy room set aside for them next to the main cafe.

    Reply
  6. Stewart Mack

    Thanks for the speedy reply Jonathan, That is at least some comfort that you were at Freefield the next day. You are but one of many councillors, surely one of your number, or a social worker could have been there for the last day.

    This isnt all about heaping scorn onto your shoulders. Someone within the SIC, whether Councillors or Officials surely should have seen the potential that the closure would bring concern. My main thrust is why no one had the decency to turn up to it. That in itself is as sad as the closure of the centre

    Reply

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