BY GRAINNE CUFFE
A decision to do away with a borough’s only adult day centre for minorities has been reaffirmed, prompting accusations its town hall values “money over lives”.
Lewisham councillors voted last month to merge services at Cedar Court in Grove Park, Cinnamon Court in Deptford, and the Calabash Day Centre in Hither Green to make savings of £139,000.
Each centre caters for the frail and isolated, as well as those with physical disabilities, mental health problems, and dementia.
Councillors said that attendance at the centres had dropped and it was “no longer sustainable” to keep the three running separately.
The drop was put down to more elderly people choosing direct payments to commission their own services.
But the move means the BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) elderly community will lose the only dedicated adult day centre in Lewisham.
An overview and scrutiny business panel referred the initial decision back to mayor and cabinet for further scrutiny, because the item was fast tracked as a matter of “urgency”, the report failed to look at the Calabash as a dedicated centre for the BAME community, and failed to consult the wider community.
At mayor and cabinet meeting on Wednesday, November 20, Cllr Juliet Campbell said she wanted to speak to “the ongoing concerns raised by a large number of the African and Caribbean community in Lewisham”.
She said: “While I understand the consultation took place with service users and their carers, the report does not mention consultation with the wider African Caribbean community.
“Wider consultation would have shown a recognition of the integral role the African and Caribbean community have here in Lewisham.”
Cllr Campbell said she and the African Caribbean community “recognise the budget constraints,” but would be “looking to the council to identify or support it to find the resources for a specific African Caribbean centre in the forseeable future”.
She added: “The aim of the centre would be to relieve poverty and inequalities and distress – it would welcome people of all ages to experience and learn about the African Caribbean culture and heritage.”
Cllr Carol Howard said “as people who are elected by our residents, we must look at the wider perspective.
“Within a very short period of time it is projected that in Lewisham there will be at least half BAME population. There is a wide range of deprivation in Lewisham affecting all groups but we know in certain respects, in housing and employment, it is affecting BAME groups more.
“There are 22,500 unpaid carers in Lewisham. I’m sure that some of those carers are looking after people who probably need some kind of day care provision.”
Cllr Howard, who previously called for more research into the effectiveness of direct payments, said: “Are we reaching out to those groups that need help or are we just saying that direct payments is the answer?”
She implored the council not to rush the decision.
Councillor John Muldoon also questioned why the matter was pushed through faster than usual.
Responding, Cllr Chris Best, cabinet member for health and adult social care, said she was “just going to focus on what the report is about”.
She said: “This is about the day services we offer for people who come through a set process – it’s an eligibility criteria set out under the Care Act.
“What is set out is very difficult in that we’ve got 23 unused places per day because we haven’t got the same demand that we used to have.
“Because of our financial resource we can’t carry on having unused places in the three venues.
“When I went to speak to the service users they welcomed having more people join them.
“None of the social activities are going to change, in fact we want to do more, we said in the report we would invest in more. ”
Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan said he recognised a “feeling of loss” around the Calabash and proposed setting up a service users’ group at the centre so they can have “more of a say in how the service works”.
He said: “We need that community dialogue to engage with our African Caribbean community.
“We need to take stock of the damage that has been caused by austerity, we need to agree where we want our borough to be and we need to be honest about what we can achieve now under the current government spending regime.”
Campaigners at the meeting shouted “shame on you” and “money over lives” after the decision was reaffirmed.
Cheryl McLeod, from Friends of the Calabash, said the mayor’s words were “a lot of fluff”. She said: “Mayor Egan is going against the grain of African and African Caribbean elders within this borough.
“Moreover he is not considering the Windrush generation in all this, we can only conclude he is definitely continuing the Tories’ ‘hostile environment’ with the decision to carry on regardless and change the Calabash to ‘Any Bash’. The fight will continue.”
Mayor Egan said: “There is absolutely no threat to the Calabash Centre whatsoever and it’s important to remember the people using the day care services at the Calabash support the changes that are being made.
“I would like to reassure everyone, especially our African Caribbean community, that the Calabash will continue to serve their needs as it always has done.
“For the avoidance of any doubt I’ve also asked that a Calabash Users Group be formed so we can bring together the centre’s users to ensure they shape how the Calabash is run and the building continues to serve as a focal point for Lewisham’s African Caribbean community.
“We will still be supporting our African Caribbean Active Elders Group at the Calabash. But with fewer people using the traditional adult day care services – one of our centres now has just seven people attending – we have rightly had to make changes.”