'Calamity': Pensioners claim closing Holloway community centre will increase loneliness and could shorten their lives
PUBLISHED: 12:51 16 August 2019 | UPDATED: 13:08 16 August 2019
Lonely pensioners have slammed the town hall's proposal to demolish Holloway's Drovers Centre as "disgraceful" and a "chronic shame".
Islington Council is consulting on the North Road centre's future, as it looks to offset £50million of government cuts over the next three years.
It says it cannot afford the required £170,000 worth of repairs and the annual maintenance costs of £3,000.
The centre is run by Age UK, but the town hall says it can't fund the service properly and both agree it has become untenable. Age UK says it will leave in January and "tackle isolation in different ways".
A 95-year-old service user, who gave his name as George, told the Gazette: "I have come here for over 20 years, so it's an absolute calamity it's closing.
"It will shorten my life by five years. It would be lovely if they could keep it going. It's a very good place for old people."
George's daughter, Jenny Watkins added: "The issue is the council being pressured because they are not being funded properly.
"I think Islington is amazing actually, they have been very supportive to my father. They are being pushed into this by central government starving them of funds."
The council has considered asking another provider to run the centre after January, but believes this is "not viable" as it would still have to provide a similar level of funding.
Jim Conerford, in his 70s, added: "I think it's a disgrace they have to close it down when it's been used by so many people. They say old people are lonely but this going to make them lonelier if they have nowhere to go."
His friend, Ruth Hutchinson, 83, said: "I sat on the bus this morning crying because the place we have to go; they are closing it down.
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"We need the place. We are lonely. I'm so lonely I could hear myself shouting. It's a place to go, as a black woman, where everybody gets on with each other."
Norman Elvin, 84, said: "It's a chronic shame it's going to be closed because some people come here everyday - I don't know what they are going to do.
"They are people who are lost and they are being abandoned by the council.
"There are five people I really care about here and when this place closes they won't have anywhere to go. Lily has been coming here for 23 years, what's going to happen to her? She comes here every day in a taxi and she only lives at the end of the road."
Staff from inside the centre asked the Gazette not to speak with service users without permission from the Age UK communications team, but the pensioners said they have a "right to be heard" and spoke with us on the pavement outside, chanting: "Keep the Drovers open".
The council has said there are more than 70 community centres in the borough, include the Goodinge Centre a short stroll down the road.
But service users say this isn't open to them as frequently and doesn't have the same facilities. They argue the other centres are too far for some to travel too.
Islington's health and social care chief Cllr Janet Burgess said: "Unfortunately, the building no longer provides the high quality, comfortable environment we want for our residents. Both the council and Age UK Islington believe a better quality and better range of services and activities could be offered at other nearby locations.
"And, at a time of severe government cuts to council's budgets, the costs of repair and maintenance are putting additional pressure on our already stretched funds."
A spokesperson for Age UK said: "The board has taken the decision that Age UK Islington will no longer be running the centre after January.
"This 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.
"We will ensure continued support for our clients who use Drovers, beyond the date that we withdraw from operating the Drovers building to ensure that they maintain social connection."
The consultation is running until September 1. Have your say here.