St Leonards’ Isabel Blackman centre users’ shock at threat of closure

Joyce Hoath, Audrey Graves, Paul Heuduk and Peggy Cullen
Joyce Hoath, Audrey Graves, Paul Heuduk and Peggy Cullen

Users and volunteers of the Isabel Blackman centre in St Leonards have spoken of their disappointment and shock that the centre could be closed permanently.

The doors to the centre in South Street, which is run by The Royal Voluntary Service, were shut on Thursday, May 2.

Signs on the door of the Isabel Blackman centre in South Street

Signs on the door of the Isabel Blackman centre in South Street

A sign on the door states that the centre will be closed for a minimum of six weeks due to building works – but the Royal Voluntary Service has said it may be closed permanently due to the cost of the repairs.

Peggy Cullen, 84, who has been volunteering at the centre once a week for 22 years, said: “We were obviously very disappointed and shocked.”

She said no one was given any advance notice of the closure.

“We turned up on that Thursday and we were told it was closing that day,” she said.

The building in St Leonards

The building in St Leonards

“We are all missing it so much. There are more elderly people about than ever before, we need somewhere to go.

“Most of us live on our own. It’s a great hole in our lives now. It’s very sad.”

Jill Phillips, 71, has been visiting the centre everyday for the last four years and makes full use of the activities on offer – attending film club on Mondays, a group walk on Tuesdays, yoga on Wednesdays, tai chi on Thursdays and computer sessions on Fridays.

She said she was ‘very disappointed’ at the news and said of the centre: “It gives us an incentive to go out everyday. It’s nice to have a chat, we all have a laugh.”

Joyce Hoath, 86, who oftens pops in to the centre, agreed it was a good way to socialise.

“It’s nice to speak people who have the same ideas,” she said. “It’s somewhere to go, the ideal place. We all get lonely.”

Victoria Lockton, 80, said the centre was ‘very important’ to her and said the closure was ‘terrible’.

She has been visiting everyday for the last eight years, ever since she moved to Hastings from Orpington, but now she said: “I’m stuck indoors all day.

“I get bored at home and fed up with not being able to go somewhere.

“I used to go everyday. It was about meeting people.”

Her son, 53-year-old Paul Lockton, said: “There are so many older people that go around there, some have illnesses.

“It’s their only means of escape, to go round to the centre for the day.

“It’s nice to catch up with everybody and talk to the volunteers. It was brilliant. But they just won’t get that now.

“We would like to see alternative premises, but nothing had been sorted.”

As well as activities, the centre offered practical support for older people – such as a hearing aid repair service and a chiropodist.

People at the centre – who ranged in age, with the oldest user being 98 years old – could purchase a reasonably-price lunch everyday and enjoy a special cooked meal at Christmas.

The centre was also accessible for people with mobility issues – which was key for Myra Bowdler, a meet and greet volunteer at the centre for 12 years and a wheelchair user.

“It gives me somewhere to go in a wheelchair,” she said. “There aren’t many places you can go.”

A spokesman for the Royal Voluntary Service said the ‘difficult’ decision to close the centre immediately had been necessary.

“Due to the findings of the report and for the safety of all staff, volunteers and users of the centre, Royal Voluntary Service made the difficult but necessary decision to temporarily close the centre with immediate effect,” the spokesman said.

“We ensured that volunteers, hirers and attendees had been contacted where possible to inform them of this action.”

In a statement released last week, Rebecca Kennelly, director of volunteering for Royal Voluntary Service, explained the charity was unable to fund the repairs and the ongoing costs of the centre itself.

She said: “The wellbeing of older people in St Leonards and Hastings is important to us and we recognise the activities and services that take place at the centre are wanted and needed by the community.

“This means we are committed to exploring alternative models of service provision in the local community.”

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