Pensioners are mounting a campaign to stop the proposed closure of the Freefield Centre in Lerwick, where they come together from all over Shetland for hot meals.
One of the regulars, Doreen Williamson, won the support of Lerwick Community Council on Monday for her plan for a petition and protest against the £80,000 saving, which is to be debated by councillors on Thursday.
The pensioner from Leslie Road heard about the possible cut from media reports and took it upon herself to act immediately to try to save the Freefield service.
She told The Shetland Times: “I got such a shock at them telling us today that they are talking about closing it.”
The over-60s and disabled people who use the Freefield Centre five days a week are served a two-course meal for £2.85. Mrs Williamson said she was sure the three dozen or so users would be prepared to pay a price increase to £3 rather than see their centre closed down.
She decided to attend Monday’s community council meeting to find out where councillors and community councillors stood on the issue. She told the meeting it would be “very sad” if the centre closed and there was no replacement.
Mrs Williamson’s reaction is the first sign of an expected public outcry over many of the 80 proposed cuts and changes to council services which have emerged this week. According to council papers, they could save the authority nearly £20 million over two years on top of further efficiency savings.
At this stage councillors are only being asked to agree to an assessment of the pros and cons of shutting the Freefield Centre. The main justification set out in the report is that ending the meal service would end an inequality because it is only available in Lerwick, not the rest of Shetland.
However, Mrs Williamson and community councillor Willum Spence said people came from all over the isles to enjoy the meals. The centre is also used by organisations to hold meetings in.
Council officials also believe the closure would free-up the building for full use by other services. It is thought the private or voluntary sector could step in to meet the demand for pensioners’ cheap meals.
The community council agreed to write to the council expressing its concerns about the closure proposal. Chairman Jim Anderson said he found it hard to justify shutting Freefield while the council continued subsidising several other eateries in Lerwick, including the Islesburgh Cafe.
He called on officials to put a bit more work into their efforts to find savings and to remove subsidies from those who could afford it rather than picking on “an easy target” like older folk.
Speaking at the meeting, councillor Jonathan Wills said the Freefield Centre was not an ideal building and if the meals service could be provided elsewhere there probably would be few complaints. He assured Mrs Williamson his colleagues would be going through the proposed cuts line by line on Thursday seeking explanations and assurances.
Councillor Caroline Miller said the centre was only being put up to be assessed for closure. She advised people to let their councillors know what they thought of the proposal.