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‘I am scared of life without it’: Finsbury dementia service under threat

PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 August 2016 | UPDATED: 12:58 23 August 2016

Members of the St Luke's Community Centre early dementia service. Picture: Polly Hancock

Members of the St Luke's Community Centre early dementia service. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

St Luke’s Community Centre in Finsbury is set to lose its annual £26k council grant for a vital early dementia service. James Morris visited sufferers as they made a last-ditch plea for Islington Council to review its decision.

Joe Trotter and Margaret Rudge at the St Luke's Community Centre early dementia service. Picture: Polly HancockJoe Trotter and Margaret Rudge at the St Luke's Community Centre early dementia service. Picture: Polly Hancock

For such a modern building, the first floor of St Luke’s Community Centre is a bit of a throwback. One common room is entirely fitted with traditional decor and wallpaper.

It’s because this floor is dedicated to the centre’s over-55 services – including early dementia provision – and the service users like it that way.

Five days a week, from Monday to Friday, up to 11 people with early stage dementia visit the centre in Central Street.

At about 9.30am, they are picked up from their homes. On arrival, take part in an activity such as music therapy or seated exercise. A healthy lunch is followed by another activity. Then it’s home time at 4pm.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes all the difference.

Former Islington mayor and lifelong Finsbury man Joe Trotter, 80, lives in the Peregrine House block half a mile away in Hall Street. His dad, Joseph Snr, was also mayor and has a block named after him on the Finsbury Estate.

Michael Ryan, CEO of St Lukes Community Centre. Picture: Polly HancockMichael Ryan, CEO of St Lukes Community Centre. Picture: Polly Hancock

Joe has been a trustee at St Luke’s for 30 years, and now uses the early dementia service three times a week.

“It keeps you in contact with people,” he says. “That’s simple but so important. Everybody knows one another. It’s like the good old days in Finsbury!”

The service costs £52,000 a year to run, and is split between St Luke’s and Islington Council. But government cuts to the council budget have hit. From October, Islington will no longer provide its annual £26,000 grant – although it continues to give St Luke’s £60,000 a year towards its overall services, which include helping young people, counselling and employment advice.

The council has also suggested taking over the minibus pickup service, but St Luke’s CEO Michael Ryan believes this wouldn’t be enough to keep the service going. He wants Islington to review the cut.

“We would really like them to rethink this,” he said. “They have a duty of care. This is about people’s lives. If it was a service for computer skills, you would understand the cuts. What would happen if these people cannot get here? They would be stuck in their properties. Nine of the 11 live on their own.

“If this service stops, and they are forced into care homes, it would certainly cost the council more than £26,000. It would be in the region of £400,000.”

Staff members Sarah Kehoe (volunteer), Marlow Fox (care support and dementia co-ordinator), Kishor Ghadia (care support and minibus driver) and Thomas Lang (director of operations) at St Luke's Community Centre. Picture: Polly HancockStaff members Sarah Kehoe (volunteer), Marlow Fox (care support and dementia co-ordinator), Kishor Ghadia (care support and minibus driver) and Thomas Lang (director of operations) at St Luke's Community Centre. Picture: Polly Hancock

Michael believes a lot of the centre’s work is unseen. “This isn’t just somebody going out in a minibus to pick people up,” he said. “It’s so much more: making sure appliances are turned off, that doors are locked. It’s the same when they return home.

“We are here to make sure brains and bodies are stimulated. It’s simple stuff, and includes being around other people, which makes such a difference.”

Margaret Rudge, 86, of Vincent Terrace, just behind Angel station, said: “With these cuts, I’m afraid I would lose this. There would be little to do all day but stare at four walls.”

Margaret has been coming to the sessions three times a week since she was diagnosed five years ago.

“Dementia is a terrible thing,” she added. “Lots of people who come here were in high-powered jobs. But coming here keeps your brain ticking over.”

An Islington Council spokesman said: “We are deeply committed to our older residents, especially those with health-related challenges, and place great value on the good work that St Luke’s do in the community.

“We’re working closely with St Luke’s to find ways to continue a transport service to and from its centre, with one option being that this service is delivered in-house by the council so as to provide better value for money at a time of deep government funding cuts.”

Council cuts

Islington Council has reeled from central government cuts. The authority lost out on £25m in the last financial year, forcing it to make £22m of cuts to 77 of its own services in this year’s council budget.

Its priority was making an extra £500,000 a year available for fighting youth violence. It followed the killings of Alan Cartwright, Stefan Appleton and Vaso Kakko last year.

And council leader Richard Watts said in February: “We have to choose the right areas to spend and the big priority in our borough is how to keep young people safe.”

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