Sunday, 19 January 2020
A DAY centre for the elderly in the Henley area is to close next year.
Age UK Oxfordshire, which runs the weekly Good Companions club at the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed, will wind it up in late March or early April.
The charity says it is becoming unviable due to falling visitor numbers while demand for such services is dropping nationally in favour of specialist hobby and activity groups.
Only 12 or so people now use the centre, which meets on Fridays and offers a cooked lunch, quizzes, arts and crafts, music therapy and occasional day trips. Each session costs £15 and is overseen by paid staff or volunteers who provide transport for visitors with mobility problems.
The club was the only one of eight across Oxfordshire which the charity didn't shut when the county council withdrew its funding as a cost-cutting measure in 2017.
That same round of cuts led to closure of the Bluebells dementia club at the Christ Church Centre in Henley, which has since re-opened following a fund-raising campaign.
Penny Thewlis, chief executive of Age UK Oxfordshire, said the charity would help each user to find new clubs and societies to attend.
In some cases this could include Bluebells, which has expanded to two days a week after relaunching in May and says it could add a third.
She said users were consulted on price increases to keep it going but most weren't in favour.
Ms Thewlis said: “Fewer older people want to attend day centres these days, I suppose because of changing expectations. We help thousands of people to connect with things in their community that they would like to do.
“That's a trend both nationally and locally — they want anything from cinema trips or singing sessions to 'knit and natter' or 'men in sheds' groups.
“It's a dilemma for us because we understand that some people will still want to use a traditional day centre but we feel there's enough provision locally without Good Companions.
“Some of those still using it would like it to continue, which is understandable as it's a lovely group in a beautiful setting, but their numbers are falling. We've looked at fund-raising to support it but it's hard to attract donations for an established service as people prefer to back something that's seen as new or innovative.
“However, no charity can afford to be financially unstable and we have to consider the bigger picture. Outside of day centres we're now regularly organising 260 activities for about 5,000 people.
“We've hit the point where we can't sustain the club any longer so this is the logical decision.
“None of us works in this sector to close things and we understand it may be a difficult transition but we will work with everyone individually to help meet their specific needs.” Henley town councillor and Bluebells chairman Glen Lambert, who raised the money to re-open the club during his year as mayor, said: “We will approach Age UK Oxfordshire to ask if there is any interest in people coming to Bluebells instead.
“Things have been going well since we introduced a second day and we would be happy to add a third for the Nettlebed users if it’s what they want and is appropriate for their needs.”
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