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Pensioners vow to fight to save Highbury day centre

Pensioners ‘disgusted’ at failure to consult them before demolition decision was taken

24 February, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

Over-65s enjoy hot meals and company at the Sotheby Road day centre. ‘We want to stay here,’ said one regular

PENSIONERS in Highbury are furious that a decision was made to demolish a 43-year-old day centre without any consultation with the 120 people who use it.

The group of over-65s, some of whom have been members of popular Soth­eby Mews Day Centre for decades, are deeply concerned at Islington Council plans to move the service to the new Highbury Roundhouse community centre a mile-and-half away.

And they are seething over the fact that they only learned their centre was to close down to make way for new housing in a letter sent two weeks ago by the Roundhouse – and not the council.

“It’s absolutely disgusting,” 73-year-old Katrina Toye said. “It’s like we’re not important enough.”

A core group of elderly people depend on the Sotheby Road day centre, opened in 1974, for hot meals and company. It is feared that some might sink into isolation and depression without somewhere to go.

It provides a film club, a hairdresser, arts and crafts and singing workshops, bingo, pilates and yoga classes, a men’s social club and lunch club.

Pensioners are concerned that they will not have the same level of services at the new Roundhouse, a community centre for all ages where they will not have their own space.

Liz Clare, Sotheby’s most vociferous campaigner who fought to save the centre six years ago, said: “We want to stay here. There’s nothing for us there. They’re not going to provide the same facilities. We will fight this.”

The council agreed to amalgamate Sotheby’s lunch club with the Roundhouse lunch club in 2011, when the Roundhouse was forced to move out of its base in Ronalds Road because the building was deemed unsafe.

Roundhouse services, which include an under-fives club, a youth club, after-school classes and a holiday play scheme have been provided from temporary premises since.

Now, building work on the new Roundhouse has begun after council chiefs agreed two weeks ago to give Highbury Roundhouse Association (HRA) a 99-year lease of the site at a peppercorn ground rent of £500 a year.

Artist’s impression of the new Roundhouse

It also agreed to fund the development to the tune of £1.1million after the HRA secured £1million in Lottery funding for the new centre.

The council wants to build on the Sotheby Mews site and part of the Ronalds Road site to offset its contribution to the new centre and provide new social housing.

Highbury East Green councillor Caroline Russell, the sole opposition member on the council, said the lack of consultation with services users at Sotheby Mews was “absolutely shocking”.

“This is typical top-down Labour – no consultation,” she said. “It’s just unacceptable that they don’t engage people in a conversation.

“Everyone knows there’s trouble financially at councils but you can’t just impose cuts without discussing it with those experiencing them.

“People at Sotheby Mews are determined to keep services there and I will do everything I can to help protect the centre.”

Cllr Russell suggested building a sheltered housing scheme at Sotheby Mews alongside a community centre. Elderly people who have social rented flats could move there, freeing up homes for those on the waiting list, she said.

The council has had to save £21.4m in its 2017-18 budget, on top of the £170m of cuts it has had to make since 2010. By 2020, its budget will have decreased by 70 per cent.

Sotheby Mews is a non-statutory service, meaning the council is not obliged to fund it by law.

Housing chief Councillor Diarmaid Ward said: “I completely understand service users’ concerns and it’s our job to engage with them. We fight very hard to protect all services.

“A full range of services will be transferred to the Roundhouse. We are contributing over £1million to the new community centre, and we want to protect all services. We are delivering much-needed social housing for Highbury.”

HRA secretary Tony Miller said: “I can see there would be considerable reluctance to leave [Sotheby Mews] because it’s what people are used to. We hope to provide equivalent and better facilities. It’s down to us to show goodwill and give them services they will enjoy.”

Mr Miller said the minibus service, which picks service users up from their homes, would continue.

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