Defiant campaigners and pensioners today said the fight would go on to keep a Norwich day centre for the elderly open – after a decision by councillors left the door ajar for it to continue.
Norfolk County Council’s cabinet yesterday made a final decision on the fate of the Silver Rooms and Essex Rooms, which will now set wheels in motion for their gradual closure.
The dozens of pensioners who attend the centres for lunches and entertainment had fought to keep them open and at the start of the meeting, a 2,212-name petition was handed to county council leader Daniel Cox by campaigners from the Silver Rooms and one of more than a thousand names from their counterparts battling to save the Essex Rooms.
The county council runs the centres and says it wants to shut them because of a shake-up in the sort of care they provide – which will focus on dementia and re-ablement needs.
The council says those centres, in Silver Road and Essex Street, are not fit for those uses and wants to stop running them, instead moving the current users to other services which would be provided by the voluntary sector, such as Age Concern Norwich, in partnership with the county and city council.
Officers at County Hall say that will allow friendship groups to stay together and would offer a wider range of facilities and activities in other locations, such as The Elms, Dell Rose Court, The Cedars, St James Sheltered Housing and Don Pratt Court.
At yesterday’s meeting, members agreed to set up that partnership and, as it stands, that means see the Silver and Essex Rooms will be gradually closed, although the council was quick to stress that would not happen until the users are ready to move to a place they are happy with.
But the door was also left ajar for a community group to come in to take over the running of the centres, with the recommendation that the new partnership will retain the option of maintaining them as day care facilities alongside the new community based services if there is found to be sufficient resources and demand.
The Friends of the Silver Rooms are hoping they can do just that and believe they can make a strong case for that centre remaining open and in use by the elderly people who love it so much.
They have enlisted the aid of The Guild, a Norwich-based organisation which supports social enterprise schemes, to draw up the business plan.
They hope the whole community will rally around to enable the Silver Rooms, which have been used by elderly people for lunches and meetings for more than 25 years, to stay open.
However, their request for the county council to contribute towards the business plan was turned down at yesterday’s meeting.
Georgina Moles, from the Friends of the Silver Rooms, said: “The door is still open. We will talk to the council about the partnership process and need to find out what that means.
“We want to see the Silver Rooms continue as a community resource, primarily for older people and we still want to see that happen. We’re disappointed that they are not prepared to pay for the business plan, but we are still fighting.”
Green councillor Stephen Little, whose Town Close ward includes the Essex Rooms, said: “I would like to pay tribute to those involved in the campaign, in particular the attendees who have been an example to us all with their brave and determined efforts to speak up about places they have come to regard as a second home.
“These centres cater for a broad range of needs under one roof. It’s important to not separate people unless absolutely necessary. These centres have adapted and remained successful over 40 years, so they must be doing something right.”
But David Harwood, cabinet member for adult social services, said: “This has been a long process and one where we always intended to consult with all the users.
“This is about all our day care centres across Norfolk. I’m pleased to say that we have spoken to both Norwich MPs and updated them on the proposals. It’s well known that they both now favour the proposals.
“The city council did a report regarding these places, which agreed with our assessment of the buildings.
“I was upset for the users themselves at the amount of scaremongering that went on by people thinking they were doing people a favour, but all they managed to achieve was to upset some old and vulnerable people with incorrect information. It’s important that we take into account that this is for everyone in Norfolk.”
Council leader Daniel Cox said Mr Harwood had suffered “considerable personal vitriol” over the past few months and said: “The easy thing to do would be to leave it exactly as it is, but that would not be the right thing to do.”
But Ms Moles hit back at the scaremongering claim. She said: “I think that was a terrible slur on the Friends of the Silver Rooms. We have not scaremongered. The pensioners who have come to these meetings have come here because they care about the place they love.”
When the closure plans were announced last year it sparked outcry, with pensioners protesting at public meetings, thousands of signatures collected on petitions and an all-night vigil held outside the Silver Rooms.
The Evening News has highlighted the fight to keep them open through our Fight For Our Day Centre stories.
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