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.

Click on image to enlarge.
Click on image to enlarge.

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.

Click for full image
Click on image to enlarge.

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.


Add Your Comment
  • Maria Parker

    • March 25th, 2013 16:59

    Lets hope the councillors mind aboot dis whin dir old and frail with no opportunity of social contact and perhaps unable to cook a hot meal. Wi the look o some o dem it’ll mibee no be lang aff. Whit goes aroond, comes aroond! An I hoop I’m dere ta see it!

  • Barbara johnson

    • March 25th, 2013 18:01

    So what happened to the councillors election promises,vote for me and i’ll forget about you !!!

  • Brian Smith

    • March 25th, 2013 18:15

    ‘… spending on services for people not assessed as being in need could not be justified at a time of cuts’. What utter baloney! Most Council expenditure benefits people not assessed as being in need.

  • ian tinkler

    • March 25th, 2013 20:35

    £600,000 “bridging facility” was agreed to keep Mareel afloat. From SIC reserve fund. What a bunch of total a*******s in the town hall. No apologies for language here.

  • ian henderson

    • March 25th, 2013 21:21

    Well the council may be trying to save £80 000 by closing Freefield but what the hell are they doing paying £70 000 to renew a lease for a empty office which they have moved out all there council tax staff to a flashy new office block!!!!!!

  • Peg Young

    • March 26th, 2013 5:29

    Shame, shame, shame. It’s happening everywhere, it seems.

    “Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members: the last, the least, the littlest.” (Unknown).

    So we know where Shetland stands.

  • william smith

    • March 26th, 2013 6:51

    same old same sic Shetland was the best place in Britain to live as a pensioner now its the worst place in Europe for a pensioner in saving its alwat kids and pensioners to suffer never the top salary ones so much for the Shetland oil money it only for a few not the many

  • roy chamberlain

    • March 26th, 2013 9:36

    dreadful decision-cut the salaries of the top civil servants first –

  • gilbert burgess

    • March 26th, 2013 10:29

    has SIC gone mad god willing the members of SIC who voted to close freefield,may grow old and look for a place for a nice meal and a chat wee old friends,AH but wee closed freefield,so short sighted,plenty of money for da reel an propertys fir mare paper shufflers,as a blown away sheltie i am rather dissapointed the old and vulnerable have to pay again.

  • Allen Fraser

    • March 26th, 2013 12:24

    ‘Dere’s nane sae blind as dem dat canna see’

  • BillyDoig

    • March 27th, 2013 9:26

    What a shame for the people who rely on Freefield to meet their friends and catch up with their latest news.Cecil Eunson and Alex Morrison must be turning in their graves.It always seems to be the less privileged that seem to suffer.Sell a few of the properties the council owns which they didn’t even realise they had.Cut down on senior managment and the number of councillors and you could save milllions.The 600,000 they gave Mareel would have been,according to my maths,would have kept f
    Freefield open for another 7 years.Simple logic which unfortunately seems to be sadly lacking in the Town Hall.

  • clive munro

    • March 27th, 2013 10:26

    Yes, and the money wasted on The Bressay Bridge (what bridge?) could have kept Freefield open for a century! Why do some people feel the need to blame Mareel for every cut the council makes? Compared to some of it’s financial misadventures (Norrona, High School, investing in numerous already doomed private enterprises) Mareel is a bona fide success story which is being used, and enjoyed, daily by hundreds of people-islanders and visitors alike. The decisions to close Freefield, reduce funding to COPE etc. are both short-sighted and cowardly, but they’re not happening because the council decided five years ago, and wisely in my opinion, to build Mareel.

  • ian tinkler

    • March 27th, 2013 11:43

    Clive, All you say is true, the difference is Mareel is still costing us dear and if paste performance is anything to go bye under the incompetent management of Shetland Arts, always will. £1.5 million plus and rising, that’s after only a few months. Now how about the cost of Price Waterhouse report and undisclosed SIC funds. etc. I notice SIC has refused freedom of information requests on costs. I do wonder why.

  • Mike McEwan

    • March 29th, 2013 13:05

    Where is the saving? If they are keeping the staff on in other positions and setting £50,000 aside a year then I can’t see where any savings are being made.
    OK they can give up the lease on the building fair enough but the council has loads of buildings it could use.
    How about they move the lunch club to Mareel the pensioners could pay £3.50 for a soup and a sandwich!!


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