Corby day care centre hit by cuts speaks out

The Autumn Centre – a valuable fixture of Corby’s day centre scene for more than 15 years- is in the midst of worrying times, as a county council contract that makes up a quarter of its budget will end in March.

Thursday, 17th October 2019, 11:05 am
Chair of the trustees Marie Bissett says the contract ending is a huge concern.
Chair of the trustees Marie Bissett says the contract ending is a huge concern.

The centre, along with 12 other organisations which collectively are helping more than 3,500 people, is now looking for more funding, but as yet nothing is on the horizon.

Reporter Sarah Ward went along to meet the users and staff who are concerned about what the future holds.

“It is just wrong. They are picking on the weakest and vulnerable people as they think they will just accept it.”

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Hairdresser Gillian Lamb says the centre is more like a family than a place of work. Pic Alison Bagley.

That’s the view of Autumn Centre’s in-house hairdresser Gillian Lamb who has been cutting and blowing the tresses of the over-50s members since it opened in 2003.

An amateur social worker, carer and counsellor who has worked with the elderly most of her working life, Gillian knows better than most how invaluable the services that the centre provides are.

She said: “It is not like your job – it is like you come out and see your friends. If people don’t come in we are on the other end of the phone to them to make sure they are OK.

“They rely on the staff and their friends here. For many we are the only people they can rely on to talk about their worries.

Manager Lee McCormick leads the staff and members in fundraising half of the 200,000 it costs each year to run the centre.

“It stop loneliness – imagine living on your own and not seeing anyone from day to day.

“A lot of families are quite worried about what will happen to their parents. Many are at work and it gives them peace of mind to know their parents are here, with other people and being looked after.”

Open five days a week the centre, on Corby’s Exeter estate, offers a lifeline and extended family to the 900-plus members who rely on it for company, care and a nutritious daily meal.

Membership is free and for just £10.40 a day the over 50s from Corby and the surrounding villages can be collected from their door in the morning and taken home again in the mid afternoon after enjoying a three course meal. Each day there is a packed itinerary of classes from thai chi to weigh-in sessions, with a new programme introduced each month.

The centre has a packed programme of activities to strengthen the mind and body of members.

One regular is Margaret Sykes, whose late husband Tom was a respected name in the town.

Tom served as a county and borough councillor, was the first freeman of the borough and used to run the Autumn Centre’s predecessor the Darley Dale Centre in Studfall Avenue.

Margaret said: “This place means a lot to a lot of people. People come here for their meals, to have their hair done, to make friends and have a chat. It does make a big difference.”

Chair of the trustees Marie Bissett says the spirit of the centre will not change with the funding loss but it is causing huge concern.

She said: “We are trying to think very positively but at the end of the day if we lose this grant it will be a big blow. All bills are going up. The price of food is going up. The cost of running our services is increasing each year.

“We might be lucky and if they realise that if these places close down they will have a lot of people who need more from social services. It will in the end cost the council a lot more. Some people will have no company, no meals – it would just be awful.”

The centre’s staff and supporters fundraise half of the £200,000 they need each year to run through charity events and staff now run a bingo session one Saturday a month to top up the funds.

The county council contract which is ending was worth £57,000 a year and Corby Council gives a grant of £37,000 a year, which is roughly equivalent to the transport contract the centre has for its pick-up and drop home service.

Marie is full of praise for the centre’s manager Lee McCormick, who leads the fundraising efforts.

She said: “The amount of fundraising she has instigated has been amazing. Lee is so focused on getting money and making us independent.”

Lee says the charity has enough in reserves to last for another 18 months but will need to find more funding soon. Prices may also have to rise a little which could impact on how many people are able to use the services. Last month (September) 327 different people accessed one of its services.

Lee said: “It is very worrying. I dread to think what would happen if we weren’t here. You can’t understand the essence of the place until you visit.”

The length of service of staff illustrates what kind of place the centre is. Head cook Ute McIntyre has been cooking up to 60 main meals a day since it opened and dishwasher Deborah Leader has been volunteering four days a week for the past 10 years.

Last month the centre opened its Memory Lane cafe and also an area of 1950s experience which uses authentic props to recreate many of the users’ childhoods.

Following the end of the dementia day centre service at Thackley Green in Great Oakley, the centre is being used by a lot more people who have conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

Husband and wife Sue and Chris Robinson cannot speak highly enough of the centre and the way it has enriched their lives.

Former electrical engineer Chris, 75, has vascular dementia after suffering a stroke in his late 60s. He now comes along to the centre twice a week and with friend John runs the digging for dementia group which has given a new green lease of life to the outside area.

Chris said: “The centre has everything here for us that we need. There is no embarrassment or excuses needed – everyone here knows I have dementia. It feels like a close-knit family.

“I didn’t want to come at first. But the first time I came I got chatting to somebody and have made some lovely friendships here.

“Dementia is hard to deal with as I have always been a maker and a thinker. But I want to raise awareness. We know it is going to get worse, it is depressing, but a group of us are fighting it. “

His wife Sue said: “There is nowhere else like this in Corby. It has been phenomenal. It has helped Chris immensely being able to come here. It is a lifesaver.”

But those who are making the decisions to let the three-year funding contract ‘run to a natural end’ and not replace it with anything else have not visited the centre during working hours.

The council’s commissioning manager went along when the centre was closing and local councillors – besides Cllr John McGhee who represents the area – have not been in touch. Corby MP Tom Pursglove has been to visit and says he will be working hard for the funding to continue.

Northamptonshire County Council – which is in the midst of a financial crisis after years of mismanagement and running down its reserves – has not got any other funds lined up.

A spokesman said it will be working with the centre to try to access other funding pots.