“WHY don’t the Council care about the elderly? Why do they want to deny me the one thing I look forward to each week; I just cannot understand it.”
Those are the damning words of one distraught pensioner at a Marston Green day centre who has joined others in accusing Solihull councillors of ‘cutting their links with the outside world’ after they agreed to scrap funding for the centre.
Stan Petty visits St Leonards Day Centre three times a week, as it is his only opportunity to meet friends.
But the blind 82-year-old has said he is devastated by the news the centre, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, could be forced to close its doors in a matter of weeks after councillors agreed to withdraw £60,000 of funding.
The last remaining independent OAP day care centre in the north of the borough is a vital lifeline to pensioners, many of whom are frail or are physically disabled – picking them up from their homes, providing them with a two course meal at lunchtime and entertainment before returning them home.
But the decision to withdraw the funding from September 30 this year has left the management with two choices – to charge each user £45 a day, a cost many would be unable to afford -or close the centre’s doors for good.
Rick Smallwood, who has managed the centre since 2000, said he is ‘heartbroken’ by councillors’ decision.
“Cuts to day centres are not only unsustainable, they are also unfair on the people who rely on our centre to provide them with a good, cooked dinner and the interaction with other people so many of them crave,” he explained.
“A lot of pensioners do not live near their families or have seen them die so for many our centre is the only time they will speak to other people.
“St Leonards Day Centre is not a nursing home – we are the difference between living in a residential home and living in isolation.”
A petition signed by more than 500 people has called on the council to continue to pay the grant for an additional 18 months to allow manager Rick to apply for external grants and look at other means of funding the centre.
Conservative councillor for Bickenhill ward, Jim Ryan, has thrown his support behind the campaign and is calling on his fellow councillors to reconsider their decision.
“We need to investigate all options,” Coun Ryan said.
“I stated the case for St Leonards Day Centre in a very positive way, and asked for more time while we all investigate options of alternative funding.
Coun Ryan also pointed out that St Leonards was praised by the council just three years ago for taking pressure off social services by opening its doors to Chemsley Wood residents after a day centre in their area was forced to close.
He added: “If this day centre is closed, the cost will just be shifted elsewhere in the budget.
“If these elderly people are left without this lifeline they would require more individual care, which would cost the council double, maybe treble the £60,000 grant currently given to the centre.”
Speaking out against the closure, 77-year-old Hazel Casson said she would be ‘finished’ without the day centre and its closure would see her cut off from the outside world.
She added: “I don’t see anybody, apart than carers who call in, other than when I come to this day centre.
“I’ve made so many friends, and I love every minute I’m here.
“I have great fun, a good meal, and if this is stopped I will be heartbroken.”
Barbara Wiles, aged 85, simply said: “If the Council shut this down, they’ll be taking away my only social life, and life can be very lonely on your own.”
A Solihull Council spokesperson said the cut to St Leonards Day Centre was part of a wider Day Services Review started in 2014 to ensure day service contracts were ‘consistent’.
They added: “No decisions have been made about the future of St Leonards and we are currently working with them to look at how we continue to support people with assessed eligible needs to continue to access this service.”