Fury at club closure threat

A TOWN centre's over-50s activity club was under the threat of closure last night after council chiefs pulled the plug on a lunchtime meal service.Dwindling numbers of people turning up to buy subsidised hot meals at the Lion Walk activity centre in Colchester have forced bosses to examine its overall long-term viability.

A TOWN centre's over-50s activity club was under the threat of closure last night after council chiefs pulled the plug on a lunchtime meal service.

Dwindling numbers of people turning up to buy subsidised hot meals at the Lion Walk activity centre in Colchester have forced bosses to examine its overall long-term viability.

From Monday, the luncheon club at Lion Walk will be suspended leaving elderly regulars, who turn up not only for food but also company and camaraderie, anxious they would be “left in the lurch”.

Following a budget review in May, the kitchens at Lion Walk were closed meaning meals have had to be cooked at Colchester Borough Council's other centre in Abbot's Road and ferried by over by van.


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That decision left many doubting the council's commitment to keeping Lion Walk, which caters for a range of activities including hairdressing, aerobics and dancing, open in the long term.

The borough currently spends £136,000 funding the two loss-making centres, but yesterday, shocked pensioners spoke of their fears and some expressed doubt at the council's ultimate motives.

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Walter Mudd, 88, from Colchester, said: “It's all very well saying we can go over to Abbot's for a meal instead, but I won't be able to do that.

“I have to come by buggy and so I can't use a bus. I come here to meet my friends, so if they start going elsewhere, who will be here for me?”

Hazel Harnwell, also from Colchester, said she would take up the fight on her friends' behalf. “It's disgusting,” she said.

“This is in the town centre and that's why people come here. They can do their shopping and collect their pensions in town and then come and meet up – it's essential they keep it open.

She added: “We'd like some guarantees that nothing more will shut down.”

Colchester Borough Council's head of social and economic regeneration, Steve Clarke, insisted there were many problems at the centre.

He said: “This is not just about budgets. The number of people using the meal service has been falling and we have to face economic realities.

“We have fixed costs to cover and it is difficult to make it work if the numbers are not right.

“There are also exceptional circumstances at play here with staff shortages making the problem worse – the managers at the centre have even been doing the washing up themselves and that's not right.”

He added: “Rumours about the long term future as a whole have been circulating for a while and its total closure is something that we just cannot rule out.

“However, we will look at all possibilities in the meantime, including whether we can transport people from Lion Walk to Abbot's for their meals instead.”

He said the council remained committed to providing activity services to the elderly.

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