Future of lunch club ‘dragging on’ as councillors defer Freefield decision
Pensioners will have to wait to find out if the council-run Freefield Centre where they meet to have cheap lunches has a future.
It was agreed by councillors at a meeting of the social services committee today that the decision on whether to close the centre to save £80,000 per year will be taken at a special council meeting in the middle of next month.
Chairman of the social services committee Cecil Smith proposed the deferment, saying it would give council officers time to meet service users again “to get this resolved”. The talks will also include the voluntary sector, which is likely to take over the service from the council.
Mr Smith told the group of pensioners at the meeting that they needed to help in this.
He said: “Service users will have to try to make this work, we need you to assist and to be willing to move.”
He had already asked convener Malcolm Bell to call a special meeting of the full council, and pointed out that lot of time and effort had been put into finding a solution, but problems had been encountered.
The pensioners, who have been opposed to moving to another venue, now feel they are left with no other option. They said they had been presented with a vision of a “padlock on the door” earlier this week in a meeting with social services vice chairman Allison Duncan.
Mr Duncan said the operative word in that meeting, in which the pensioners had reluctantly agreed to move location, had been “reluctantly.” He said that he too had been “horrified” when he first saw the report proposing closure at the end of May.
Interim head of community care Sally Shaw told the meeting it would cost between £70,000 to £100,000 to upgrade the building using council contractors, although the cost using the private sector had not been assessed. The building was not suitable for the disabled, she said, and did not lend itself to other uses.
This had been explored by other groups in the voluntary sector who expressed interest in continuing the service, in a way that would be “cost neutral” to the council.
But now the council had “exhausted all options”. Ms Shaw added that the lunch club, which has operated for 30 years, was a “discretionary” council service not provided elsewhere in Shetland.
Councillor Alastair Cooper said it was important to keep the commitment to the service users to get a good quality meal, and it was also important to keep up the pressure to get a solution within the timescale.
Councillor Amanda Westlake agreed, saying she could not understand why the process was taking so long and did not want to see it “dragging on and on.”
Councillor Billy Fox said he had got an “upbeat” message in October that the current service at Freefield could be maintained with input from the voluntary sector, and the building could be used for other purposes as well. He criticised the way the issue had been handled and said it had been in a state of limbo long enough.
Catherine Hughson, head of Voluntary Action Shetland, which may carry the service on, said her organisation looked forward to running the service in a different location.