Fresh hope for Norwich day centres

Sarah HallTwo Norwich day centres for the elderly could yet be spared from the axe, after councillors agreed there was merit in giving community groups the chance to make the case for them taking them over.Sarah Hall

Two Norwich day centres for the elderly could yet be spared from the axe, after councillors agreed there was merit in giving community groups the chance to make the case for them taking them over.

About a dozen pensioners attended a meeting at Norfolk County Council yesterday to discuss the fate of the Silver Rooms and the Essex Rooms.

The pensioners were promised that they would not be moved out of the centres until alternatives are put in place which they are happy with - and it also emerged that community groups could yet take over the running of the centres.

The county council says that, in the long-term, the centres will need to be gradually closed, but wants to set up a day opportunities partnership, involving Norwich City Council and Age Concern Norwich, to offer the users alternative provision, possibly in sheltered housing and housing with care complexes.

The proposals are part of a shake-up in the way the council, which runs the Silver and Essex Rooms, provides care, which would see a switch towards using its own premises to provide care for people with dementia and those who need re-ablement care before returning to their own homes.

The council said the Essex and Silver Rooms could not be converted to those uses because of the outdated facilities in the buildings, which have been run as day centres for more than 25 years.

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But, at yesterday's meeting, campaigners asked whether, if a community group came up with a viable plan to keep running day services in the centres, that would be considered and given help by the council and the new day opportunities partnership.

Former Norwich South MP Ian Gibson, who is president of Norwich and District Carers' Forum, was invited to speak on the issue said: 'I have been involved in chairing public meetings and what has fascinated me is the dynamism among people who use the Silver Rooms.

'We have heard at this meeting how much they believe in it. All my life I have heard people whinge and moan but you don't get that there. What you get are people saying what can we do to improve this?

'I would never suggest that David Cameron is a screaming left winger but he does seem to be saying that bringing communities into decision-making is very important and I think this could be the start of how we deal with the cuts starting up.

'We have a great opportunity here to put a partnership together. I do not think the community group could pay for the staff, so we would need support, but it seems to me we could make an example here of pulling the community into decision making.'

Harold Bodmer, director of adult social services, said: 'Of course we want to work in partnership with the community about these services and we would certainly look at alternatives for the Essex and Silver Rooms.

'But the issue remains that those buildings are going to need investment and our view is that the future probably won't be in the Essex and Silver Rooms, but could be in alternative places.'

However, Mr Bodmer added there was the possibility the centres could continue to be used as community facilities, although he did not think they were suitable for dementia and re-ablement care.

While a final decision is in the hands of the county council's cabinet next week, members of the adult social services overview and scrutiny panel agreed a proposal put forward by Stephen Little, Green spokesman for adult social services, to recommend to the cabinet that it was worth exploring if other community groups could take them over.

However, they rejected a suggestion from Liberal Democrat adult social services spokesman James Joyce that the Essex and Silver Rooms should be kept open for two years while those proposals are worked up.

David Harwood, Conservative cabinet member for adult social services, said: 'I don't disagree with the sentiment, but I would say it could have quite financial significance over that period of time, extra to what has been envisaged under the proposals.'

Earlier in the meeting, before the possibility of a community group keeping the centres running as day centres, Hilda Bullen, 81, from Wodehouse Street, who uses the Silver Rooms, described the centre as a 'lifeline' for pensioners.

She asked if she could look at the alternatives which would be drawn up by the partnership - and which could include The Elms, Dell Rose Court, The Cedars, St James Sheltered Housing and Don Pratt Court.

Mr Bodmer said he could assure the pensioners they would get their say on where they moved to and added: 'We are not going to stop the services at the Silver and Essex Rooms until people are satisfied with the services elsewhere.

'We see this happening with taster sessions and when people are comfortable with that they will move across.'

George Nobbs, leader of the Labour group at County Hall, asked if the decision to move would be dependent on consensus among all the pensioners using the centres and was assured by Mr Bodmer that it would.

What do you think of the proposals for the day centres? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email