There was a sombre mood at the town’s Freefield Centre on Wednesday as pensioners gathered for their last lunch at their much-loved venue.
Around 30 of them tucked into a meal, but the atmosphere was subdued. One of the staff said: “It’s like leaving home.”
Many had been coming to the lunch club since it opened in 1977 and said they could hardly believe what was happening. All expressed their deep sadness, with some criticising councillors and officials for not being more interested in the situation. Others gave vent to their anger – a poster on the wall read: “Bought by BP, sold out by SIC.”
Phyllis Hunter, who had worked as a care assistant at the centre in those early days, said: “I can’t believe it. There are no social work people here, and where are the councillors who said they would try and save it? It’s cruel.”
Her sister Agnes Johnson, who had worked there at the same time, said: “I didn’t expect this.”
Lunch club stalwart Ivy Cluness echoed the same sentiments: “No councillors and no social services heads of department have been to see how we’re getting on.”
Member Tammy Tait was deeply upset, and said: “We’re all so disappointed. We’re an easy option.”
Jimmy Blance said: “It’s utterly disgusting, this carry on. It’s been a paper shuffle and ended up in nothing but a big farce. As the former provost Bill Smith said, it’s more than just a lunch club. Lots of people only see people here, they don’t see anyone until the next day.”
Jimmy Wiseman said that all the Lerwick councillors, plus some from further afield, had pledged to do their utmost to save the centre. He said: “They were all cadging for votes then,” and remarked they had as many faces as the town hall clock.
Veteran of 20 years at the lunch club Margaret Batty summed up the feeling: “It’s a very sad day for wis all. It’s the end of an era. The staff have been very good and helpful and we’re going to miss them very much.”
However all agreed the staff at Islesburgh, where the lunch club will meet in future, had been very helpful. But it would not be the same, they felt, as there would be no meals on Saturdays and none over Christmas and New Year, and uncertainty about provision during festivals.
Full report in Friday’s Shetland Times.