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‘I cannot fight yet another care centre closure in Islington’

With yet more services for the elderly under threat, campaigner says she can battle no more

16 August, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Irma Gomez in the Drovers Centre’s garden

A CAMPAIGNING pensioner warned that she “doesn’t have the energy to fight any more” after hearing that a second elderly care centre that she regularly uses in Islington has been earmarked for closure.

Irma Gomez, 80, has been at the forefront of the campaign to stop her beloved Sotheby Mews Day Centre in Highbury from closing, with services moved just over a mile away to a newly built centre at Highbury Roundhouse.

But she said it was “horrible” to learn that Islington Council had now ­earmarked the Drovers Centre in Barnsbury for closure.

The centre, which is run by Age UK Islington, offers a variety of activities for elderly residents, from yoga to table tennis and a lounge for users to watch TV and eat lunch.

“I don’t have the energy to fight any more. When I’m alone at home I feel I need to go out and be social. Places like this saves lives and solves mental health problems,” said Ms Gomez.

Ms Gomez regularly attends the art classes at the centre, where she paints flowers in oils and watercolours.

“I suffer from depression and the art classes help me. There are also beautiful gardens here and it keeps me happy,” she said. “This centre is another casualty and the elderly residents of Islington are the victims.”

Fellow art class-goer Milagro Dowling, 80, said she liked the centre because “it’s small and calm”.

Centre user Norman Elvin said he was “very worried” about the future for those who go to Drovers. “I can go to another place if I have to but a lot of people can’t do that because they’re so used to it here. This closure is putting them in a terrible situation and I am going to be batting for them,” he said.

Others, including David Milner, who regularly takes part in the art class, criticised Islington Council’s consultation on closing the centre, which was launched earlier this month.

“The impression we get is that they’ve already decided to close the centre and they’re just having a consultation as an afterthought,” he said.

The consultation document handed to centre-goers said that the building required £170,000 for repairs and a “complete overhaul of the heating system”.

The document says: “Unfortunately, without additional external funding, the council is not able to afford this without making cuts to other services.”

Cllr Janet Burgess, Islington Council’s executive member for health and social care, denied that they had already finalised the decision to close the centre before completing the consultation with service users.

She said the board at Age UK Islington deciding that they no longer wanted to run their services at the centre was the “catalyst” that prompted the move to close it.

The space – which is directly next to the Goodinge Health Centre, which is owned by the Whittington NHS Trust – could be used for much-needed affordable housing for residents, she added.

The council says it has to make savings of £50m in the next three years due to cuts from central government.

Cllr Burgess said: “Clearly, the council and Age UK is under financial pressure and we want to use our resources wisely but we understand places like here are important to people in Islington.”

She added: “Everyone who uses the Drovers regularly is having one-to one-discussions with Age UK on what they want for the future and we will do the very best to fulfil this.”

Ismail Bahriyeli, head of services at Age UK Islington, said no longer running the Drovers Centre “will enable us to focus on the other ways that we support people to overcome isolation, which is where we believe we can make the biggest contribution overall”.

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