What is next for our closed elderly day centre?

Gladys Bullen (front, second from left) celebrates her 103rd birthday with family and friends at Fri

Gladys Bullen (front, second from left) celebrates her 103rd birthday with family and friends at Friendship House. - Credit: Archant

After an elderly day centre was forced to close in Hatfield, its future has become circumspect. 

Friendship House's building, in Wellfield Close near Greenacres, is currently in limbo - leaving around 130 weekly users in the lurch.

Chairman of Friendship House Steve Russell has explained that the charity could not survive when it was unable to raise donations to fund its staffing and operating costs, so they had to make a decision that it would not reopen.

The charity currently has a lease from Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, paying £130 in rent annually.

It is required to make sure the building is operated only as a day centre for the elderly. This means it cannot be used for any other purpose while Friendship House keeps the lease.  

READ MORE: Why did Friendship House close?

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However, as a now-defunct charity, it is difficult for it to continue keeping the building, so it has enlisted other elderly groups to take over the site - a move that has so far not been successful according to Mr Russell.

And if they give up their lease to WHBC, Mr Russell claims that the council would have to offer it to other charities in the area, for fairness reasons.

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"We've tried to find a solution but at the end of the day it's about money," he said.

Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council believes that without major investment, the building is nearing the end of its life - despite the best efforts of Hatfield and District Age Concern (more commonly known as Friendship House). 

Under the terms of the existing lease the charity would be responsible for rebuilding the property, but this is unlikely to be financially viable for them.

Options being looked at include the demolition of the existing, aged, building and redevelopment of the site - which could include a modern community facility better able to serve the needs of local residents.

Friendship House follows Welwyn Garden City's day centre closure, Douglas Tilbe House, in 2017. Mr Russell believes Jimmy Macs in South Hatfield is for mobile older people, while Friendship House caters to those in their 80s or 90s that have mobility issues or dementia. 

The council says it shares the concerns about the impact of the closure of Friendship House and is very happy to help refer users to the lunch and social club at The Hive in South Hatfield.

While this is operated by the charity Jimmy Macs, independent from the council, both work closely together and are positive that, given the closure, the team would do everything possible to provide the warmest welcome to new visitors once coronavirus restrictions are lifted and they open again.

Cllr Duncan Bell, deputy leader of the council and executive member, resources, said: “We are very sad that the trustees of Hatfield and District Age Concern have made this difficult decision. We know how important and valued Friendship House is by some of our most vulnerable residents.

"Once the building is returned to the council, we will be better placed to consider the best use of the site for the future. Our overriding objective is to ensure that we provide a sustainable solution that best serves the needs of the borough as a whole.”

In response to these plans, Labour borough councillor and leader of Hatfield Town Council Lenny Brandon said:  “Friendship House provided vital services to the elderly of our community for decades and it is a great shame that they have closed their doors after so long.

"They seem to be hellbent on demolishing the building entirely just because they can make money out of building on it.

"There is nothing wrong with the building, and there are community groups ready to take it on.

"It’s disgusting that the Conservatives ran down a not for profit service, and are now are putting profit before people by denying anyone else the chance to use a perfectly good community asset.”

The day care centre used to provide everything from bingo, company, exercise classes and spiritualist groups to a chiropodist, hearing advice and advice for the elderly struggling with forms.

A full report on the various options for the centre will be presented to cabinet in Summer 2021 and there will also be an opportunity for residents to share their views.

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