Freefield Centre faces closure at end of May
The Freefield Centre, which provides lunches for old folk, will close at the end of May, it is proposed.
Councillors on the social services committee will be asked to approve the move on Friday following the failure of talks with voluntary groups to find ways of continuing the service.
About 30 people use the centre in Lerwick six days a week, but it has been under the spotlight for the last year as the council sought to find savings in its budget.
The suggestion of closure to save £80,000 per year provoked anger when it was first mooted. However, the council, which operates the centre, asserted the service was not provided elsewhere in Shetland.
Hopes that the lunch club might continue were raised towards the end of last year when councillors held talks with organisations and charities interested in taking over the closure-threatened building. These included the Red Cross, WRVS, Voluntary Action Shetland, the social firm COPE and the New Life Church.
Proposals included conversion of the centre’s basementso it could be used for catering for the lunch club, instead of having the meals brought in from the council’s Kantersted home. It was also suggested Freefield could open for longer, act as a drop-in centre, provide day care for people with assessed needs and be used by other community groups and for training.
Interim director of community care Sally Shaw said at that time there was a real commitment among the groups to work together and “do something that’s not been done in Shetland before”. But detailed exploration of options failed to yield a solution.
The basement turned out to be unsuitable for conversion and installing a kitchen on the ground floor would have restricted space for other uses. The building also requires considerable maintenance and upgrading – making closure seem inevitable.
Mrs Shaw said in November that spending on services for people not assessed as being in need could not be justified at a time of cuts. Although it wants to save £80,000, mainly on the cost of providing staff and food, the council will keep £50,000 a year in its budget to pay for meals or day care for those who are assessed as in need.
Lunch club users, who enjoy going to the centre for its social aspect as well as the meal, reacted angrily to closure proposals. They offered to pay £5 for their lunches (up from £3.50) and to pay for the bus which transports them to the venue, and would agree to it being closed on Saturdays.
Closure would mean the loss of four jobs but managers feel it is likely the employees can be absorbed into the community care workforce.
The Freefield Centre is leased by the council – the full lease ends in August.
More, including reaction from centre users in Friday’s Shetland Times.