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Sotheby Mews Day Centre closure: ‘This place is our lifeline... we’re on the brink of cracking up’

PUBLISHED: 09:15 30 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:22 30 March 2017

Sotheby Mews Day Centre users, from left: Elizabeth Clare, Catherine Myers, Caroline McTyre, Katrina Toye, Millicent Braithwaite and Irma Gomez. Picture: Polly Hancock

Sotheby Mews Day Centre users, from left: Elizabeth Clare, Catherine Myers, Caroline McTyre, Katrina Toye, Millicent Braithwaite and Irma Gomez. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Tearful elderly people say they have been “erased” by Islington Council as it shuts their “second home” in Highbury.

Eighty-year-old Irma Gomez has been visiting Sotheby Mews for 20 years. Picture: Polly HancockEighty-year-old Irma Gomez has been visiting Sotheby Mews for 20 years. Picture: Polly Hancock

Sotheby Mews Day Centre is a purpose-built facility for older people but is set to close next year.

It will be demolished so the town hall can build a combination of council and private housing.

For 50 years, Sotheby Mews has been a place where Islington’s elderly can socialise, exercise, have their hair done cheaply and go on day trips.

The centre’s services will move to the redeveloped Highbury Roundhouse. But long-term users claim this building will not be able to meet their needs.

Elizabeth Clare, 79, of Petherton Road in Highbury, used Sotheby Mews for 14 years before she was diagnosed with cancer. After treatment, she returned two years ago and credits the centre with giving her a “lifeline.”

Before her, Elzabeth’s mother used the centre. Through tears she said: “We have 165 people come here. People with Alzeimer’s, people with disabilities, people who are lonely. There’s nowhere else in Islington like Sotheby Mews. It’s the only place that can cater for us, but it feels like we have been completely erased. We’re all on the brink of cracking up.

“I think we are being made a fool of by the council. They are being meanies to us. It’s not the way to treat elderly people. Have we not got the right to live our lives with dignity? Are we such a nuisance to everybody? We are living too long and it’s annoying them.

“The Roundhouse is mostly for children, and always has been. That’s great for them, it keeps them off the streets. But we can’t share that space with them, and it’s not built for us. I love children, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t be around them all day.”

Sotheby Mews Day Centre has its own salon where users can get cheap trims - but this won't be moving to Highbury Roundhouse. From back to front: Gladys Bolton, Florrie Searle and Edna Newman. Picture: Polly HancockSotheby Mews Day Centre has its own salon where users can get cheap trims - but this won't be moving to Highbury Roundhouse. From back to front: Gladys Bolton, Florrie Searle and Edna Newman. Picture: Polly Hancock

Cllr Diarmaid Ward, Islington’s housing leader, said people like Elizabeth will play a “central part” in dictating future services.

But Irma Gomez, 80, of Highbury Hill, who has been visiting Sotheby Mews for 20 years, said: “The Roundhouse will only be able to facilitate some of our activities. The hairdressers will go, for example. Sotheby Mews is needed not only for us, but for future generations who will live even longer than us.

“This place is my life, from watering plants to doing my exercise. I suffer from depression and need this physically and mentally. Sotheby Mews is my therapy. To demolish this place would be to demolish my heart.”

Katrina Toye, 76, has been coming for five years and added: “It’s a lifeline. I need all of these lovely people. The alternative is siting lonely at home, chewing my fingers off.

“I suffer mental health problems and have to get out. If it wasn’t for this place I don’t know where I’d be.”

In a statement, Cllr Ward said: “We know Sotheby Mews is much-loved by many people. We’re very sorry if people feel their voices have not been heard so far, and we’re meeting with service users to talk in more detail about their concerns.

“We want Sotheby Mews service users to play a central part in helping to shape their services at the new Highbury Roundhouse, and we will support Highbury Roundhouse to make this happen.

“The new Highbury Roundhouse will be a fantastic new centre for the entire community. There will be considerably more space than at Sotheby Mews and we are confident Sotheby Mews service users will be properly accommodated and warmly welcomed.”

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