Islington Council delays Sotheby Mews Day Centre closure by 12 months

Cllrs Diarmaid Ward and Caroline Russell have a row at a Save Sotheby Mews protest outside Islington

Cllrs Diarmaid Ward and Caroline Russell have a row at a Save Sotheby Mews protest outside Islington Town Hall in September. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK - Credit: Archant

Islington Council this afternoon delayed the closure of Sotheby Mews Day Centre by 12 months – giving campaigners hope they can stop the shutdown for good.

The much-loved Highbury centre for older people was meant to close this spring. And Highbury East ward Cllr Caroline Russell said today’s announcement will embolden the campaign to persuade Islington to abandon the plans.

“This is really, really welcome,” she said this afternoon. “It’s bought a bit of time to get the council to reassess.”

Last year, council executive members decided to get rid of the building and build an unspecified number of council homes in its place. Sotheby users, meanwhile, are supposed to be shunted off to the redeveloped Highbury Roundhouse.

They don’t like this idea, as the current day centre is specially tailored to their needs, and they have not been afraid to speak out. Since the plans were announced 12 months ago, Sotheby users have become a fixture at town hall meetings, protesting on the town hall steps and challenging ruling councillors to explain themselves.

Cllr Russell, who in December handed the council a 2,303-strong petition against the closure, told the Gazette: “It’s fantastic they have listened to the campaigners. They have put their hearts and souls into it. They have finally acknowledged what we’ve been telling them for months, ever since they made their snap decision without thinking about the logistics and practicalities.

“What seemed to them like a good idea on paper just will not work in practice. The thing about Sotheby Mews is it’s a network of relationships, providing mutual care and helping each other through the trials and tribulations of getting older.

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“I am all for new homes at social rent, but this is such an important centre. It isn’t a particularly good building site anyway, as it’s on a steep slope. It’s a tricky plot and I suspect architects would agree.”

Cllr Russell, the sole opposition Green member of the Labour-controlled town hall, added: “Clearly the local elections are coming up. People will have been telling them on the doorstep how much they love Sotheby Mews, and pointing out that the council hasn’t bothered to listen to them.”

The campaigners will have another opportunity to have their say later this week. Because the petition received more than 2,000 signatures, Islington has been forced to arrange a debate about the plans at Thursday’s full council meeting.

Cllr Ward, who as housing boss will be leading the debate, met Sotheby users on Monday and said in a statement today: “We know the services at Sotheby Mews are much-loved by many people, and we recognise and accept the concerns that have been raised by people who currently use the centre.

“We’re committed to working closely with Sotheby Mews users and Highbury Roundhouse on the move to the new community centre on Ronalds Road, which will be a fantastic new centre for the entire community. We want to make sure that any concerns about the move have been adequately addressed and that Highbury Roundhouse provide the best possible services for people who currently use Sotheby Mews.

“To make sure this happens, we will spend more time working with Highbury Roundhouse and service users on details of the move, and meanwhile services will continue at Sotheby Mews for another 12 months until the end of February 2019.

“To help meet Islington’s desperate need for more genuinely affordable housing, after services have moved from Sotheby Mews we will build badly-needed new council homes on the land at Sotheby Mews.”

Thursday’s meeting, which will also see the council’s budget for 2018/19 debated, starts at 7.30pm. All are welcome.