Pensioners using the lunch club at the closure-threatened Freefield Centre have agreed to consider moving to another venue.
They also agreed to look at ways they could work with the voluntary sector following a meeting yesterday with councillor Allison Duncan.
Until now they have insisted they should stay at the council-run centre at Freefield in the centre of Lerwick, and they wanted to keep the same four council staff that served the meals.
But with closure on 31st May seeming likely – the social services committee is to be asked to agree to this on Friday – pensioners have unanimously, but reluctantly, agreed to consider two key points: moving to another location, possibly Islesburgh, and to work with the voluntary sector if the existing staff cannot be kept.
Mr Duncan said matters between the pensioners and the council, which wanted to save £80,000 per year by closing the centre, had reached an “impasse”. He was invited to address the pensioners by lunch club member and campaigner Doreen Williamson – this meeting was agreed to by chairman of social services Cecil Smith.
Mr Duncan said he felt “someone had to do something”. He said: “My job as councillor was to try and resolve the impasse. It was important to get the two sides around the table. I have fought very hard for senior citizens, people with special needs and learning difficulties, I want to look after the most vulnerable and I like to see fairness.”
He said a “constructive dialogue” had taken place and admitted there had been “intransigence” on the part of the pensioners, who “wanted to be left alone” in their home from home of 30 years.
During the meeting the pensioners were addressed by Mrs Williamson, who said it was in the club’s interest to move forward. She asked for members to agree to moving venue and working with organisations such as Voluntary Action Shetland or the New Life Church.
All 23 pensioners present agreed to this by a show of hands. Mrs Williamson said: “I think it’s the only way; they’re going to close it [Freefield] and we have to look at the location first. We’re trying to keep the group of people together, it’s a social outing as well.
“We really need this. I know there’s a lot of mixed feelings, it’s very disappointing it’s come to this, but I always said surely we can solve the problem.”
Following the meeting Mr Duncan said: “I’m delighted they have taken a sensible decision and opened the door to future discussion. I’m very grateful to everyone for getting round the table.
“I didn’t want to see any more stress in the senior citizens. I’m glad to have taken a lot of pressure off lunch club members.”
He paid tribute to Mrs Williamson, who had “taken the members with her” and council officials, who had tried hard to find a solution to the future of the lunch club, which he said was “very important” for its social aspect as well as for food.
Options, including handing the enterprise over to the voluntary sector, have been explored by the council but a solution could not be found. It would cost £70,000 to refurbish the Freefield Centre, which, Mr Duncan said, would breach the council’s mid-term financial plan.
The lunch club is open to anyone of pension age, the disabled or people needing rehabilitation after a spell in hospital from any part of Shetland.