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Bye bye Freefield, hello Islesburgh

LERWICK’s Freefield Centre is to close on 23 May with its popular luncheon club transferring down the road to Islesburgh Community Centre.

Shetland councillors unanimously agreed to close the North Road facility, but on the casting vote of convener Malcolm Bell they decided to grant Islesburgh funds to help embed the changes.

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Pensioners observing the 90 minute debate in the council chamber said they were disappointed by the decision and predicted that their club would fall apart.

The decision marks the end of a 14 month fight by the users to keep the centre open.

Shetland Islands Council said it could save £80,000 a year by stopping a service they were not obliged to provide.

On Wednesday, councillors instructed community care director Sally Shaw to put some of the £41,000 left in her budget towards the additional costs Islesburgh will incur setting up the lunch club.

Most councillors were visibly uncomfortable making the controversial decision. But social services committee chairman Cecil Smith was adamant that far too much time had already been spent on the issue, time staff needed to work on services they are legally obliged to provide.

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“They (the luncheon group) are not losing anything, everything possible has been done by the department to find a way forward,” he said.

“This council is no longer in a position to support this, and I would rather see the money used for statutory services.”

It was councillor Peter Campbell who reminded fellow councillors of their promises during last year’s election campaign.

And fellow councillor Billy Fox told the meeting the way elected members handled Freefield was the “litmus test for how this council treats the elderly and not so well off”.

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Jonathan Wills then came up with the proposal to spend £20,000 from the council’s contingency budget to help the lunch club move from Freefield to Islesburgh.

After some refining of Wills’ amendment it was agreed that any cost to help move the lunch club to Islesburgh should be met from the social care director’s remaining budget.

It was council convener Malcolm Bell’s casting vote the helped tip the balance in favour of the amendment.

Afterwards the five pensioners from the club present at the meeting expressed their disappointment and predicted that the luncheon club might now disintegrate.

Luncheon club member Ivy Cluness conceded: “Islesburgh is possibly workable but by no means perfect.”

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