BY TOBY PORTER
Cries of “shame” rang out at a cabinet meeting after town hall leaders decided to close two day centres and merge their work into a third.
Services at Cedar Court in Grove Park and Cinnamon Court in Deptford will now be moved to the Calabash Day Centre in Hither Green, saving the council £139,000.
The move means that elderly members of the BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) community will lose the only dedicated adult day centre available to them in Lewisham.
Each centre caters for the frail and isolated as well as those who have physical disabilities, mental health problems and dementia, who may now face up to an hour’s journey to avail of the services.
The main issue of contention at cabinet on Wednesday was the Calabash Centre, a dedicated space developed by community development worker Cecile Murray and put in place in 1985 by Lewisham’s former leader, the late Andy Hawkins, specifically to provide a safe space for the BAME community.
The Calabash will no longer be primarily for BAME elderly people after the merger.
Councillor Chris Best, deputy mayor and cabinet member for health and adult social care, said 70 per cent of respondents to the council’s consultation were either “supportive or neutral” and users at the Calabash Centre were “particularly open to the idea of welcoming more people”.
But she added: “It should be noted that the Lewisham Pensioners Forum wanted to see a BAME specific older adult day service continue.”
The majority of consultation events took place during the day, with two out of 16 taking place after 5pm.
A report found that the number of people using council adult day services in Lewisham more than halved from 75 in 2012/2013 to 34 in 2018/2019. Cllr Best said: “The number of people accessing these services has reduced.
“This has led to the council paying for dozens of unused places each week, which is not a
sustainable financial position for the council.
“To ensure these services remain well attended and sustainable it has been proposed we run the service from one location.”
A statement from the director of the Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies at Goldsmith University, Professor Joan Amin-Addo, a Lewisham resident who presented the history of the Calabash Centre to the Healthier Communities Select Committee in October, was read out by historian Dr Marl’Ene Edwin.
Prof Amin-Addo said: “The black elderly were not using council’s provision, the provision was underused, because they found most centres unwelcoming. Cecile Murray, initially with scant resources, painstakingly gained support that made possible this space for the black elderly group that is firmly underpinned by cultural specific practices.
“That space was recognised then and remains now potentially state of the art provision for the care of the black elderly who are vulnerable to shifting racial dynamics.”
She said that many of the black people at the cabinet meeting were children and grandchildren of the Windrush generation.
Prof Amin-Addo said: “We have lived with racism in every institution, we still do, so we wonder how Lewisham council can be so complacent and casual about racism and its impact as to dismiss it such seeming ease, even as the council proposes dismantling an important and effective solution to elderly care that certainly took racism and its effects seriously.”
Mayor Damien Egan said the comments on racism were something he “would dispute” but that he understood “passions were high”.
Cllr Best said the council was “pioneering in a lot of the work we’ve been doing on racism”.
But Councillor Coral Howard said Lewisham needed more BAME services, not fewer.
She said: “I think that Lewisham would be losing such a lot if the Calabash Centre is no longer primarily a special venue to help to meet the aspirations of the BAME community.”