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.


Add Your Comment
  • ivan coghill

    • March 29th, 2013 14:28

    When it closes, they can go to The Hays Dock Cafe (subsidised) where it is only £20 per plate. What are they moaning aboot?

  • Sandy McMillan

    • March 29th, 2013 20:29

    When this Council decides the fate of the elderly who use the Freefield Centre, I hope they remember that it is the, pensioners that need a hot meal, the company, social time, those of you Councillors who have frequented freefield centre will find a happy cheerful bunch of people enjoying there time, take this away and then what, thirty or forty pensioners sitting alone, unable to heat there homes, make a meal, just sit and weary there lifes away, Freefield Centre is there life, there has to be other means of getting there cash, we all know there is.

  • Stanley Manson

    • March 30th, 2013 1:32

    Would it not be a good idea to move the lunch meeting along the road to the Royal British Legion their lounge bar is empty every lunch time apart maybe from the odd Saturday when there is a football match on or some other event. . The Legion needs all the help they can get at the moment too. Also I’m sure some of the old boys (or girls) attending would not say no to having the odd half pint or a peerie dram with their lunch, also supporting the branch.
    Come on RBL send them an invite!

  • roy chamberlain

    • March 30th, 2013 16:27

    can the money paid for premises under used or not used at all be used to fund freefield -i read that sic was paying 70k for a building they have moved out of-is that true –

  • Sandy McMillan

    • March 30th, 2013 17:39

    As the Council are blaming the poor condition of the Freefield Centre building making it unsafe to use, if it is in such a bad state why is it being used, it cant be that bad if it is still in use, Mr Manson suggestion is a very viable one, as the Royal British Legion Lounge and Kitchen is not used throughout the week, why cant the Council approach the RBL and find out there terms, and what the Council input would be, the premises are ideally situated similiar to the Freefied Centre, as the pensioners are willing to give a little more for there meal, this may benefit both partys concerened

  • James Moir

    • March 30th, 2013 18:24

    Another story that saddens me. I know he SIC are having to make difficult decisions but getting rid of Freefield seems a bit much. These pensioners, my grandfather among them when he was alive, have worked hard all their lives and deserve the utmost respect and consideration. Surely there must be some way of keeping this place open. Perhaps local businesses and the oil companies can volunteer materials and labour to help lower the cost of refurbishment.

    In a community which raises so much money for charities surely helping out those who have helped build that community over the years shouldn’t be impossible

  • JohnTulloch

    • March 30th, 2013 20:20

    If the pensioners move to the Legion the existing Freefield Centre can then be sold for development, gaining the price plus saving the £100,000 repairs and the £80,000 per year running costs so they could, presumably, afford to pay a subsidy to the Legion to keep the cost down for the users?

    That way everybody would gain.

  • Michael grant

    • March 31st, 2013 11:39

    Cant they use the town hall for there dinners,plenty room there!

  • Brian Smith

    • March 31st, 2013 12:52

    I met two councillors last Wednesday. One of them told me that he had thirty rich pensioners in his rural constituency, and that they might demand to attend a lunch-club too, so it was imperative to close Freefield. His compatriot nodded vehemently.

    I asked: ‘Have any of them demanded to attend a lunch-club?’ ‘Er no’ was the reply, and that was as far as we got.

    I first heard about the proposal to close Freefield a year ago, when a Council consultant earning several hundred pounds a week told me that ‘It’s just a free lunch’. It is far more than a free lunch, as most people are by now aware. Closing it down will cost peanuts, by the Council’s standards; I fear that the reason that so much time has been wasted in attacking it is that the attackers regard the policy as a badge of the Council’s virility.

  • Johan Adamson

    • April 1st, 2013 9:31

    BS ‘The attackers …. as a badge of the Council’s virility? Is this then lunch envy?

    Is there any way they can use Islesburgh? It is after all a community centre and they make a fine lunch there already.

    In the country they are going to throw the pensioners a microwave ready meal with a carer with them for less time than it would take to cook a meal. Let them eat horse! (that is assuming they have a freezer and a microwave).


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