Hatfield lunch club faces closure after grant cut

Staff and centre users outside Friendship House in Hatfield who are unhappy that it is closing down

Staff and centre users outside Friendship House in Hatfield who are unhappy that it is closing down - Credit: Archant

Forty-six years ago a lunch club, Friendship House, started in Hatfield with the sole aim of providing a friendly leisure centre for the elderly.

But now, after helping thousands of Welwyn Hatfield’s OAPs, this “vital lifeline” is facing closure after having its grant cut by the borough council.

Friendship House, in Wellfield Close, serves lunch to elderly people from Monday to Friday, runs a charity shop and provides a place for retired people to meet and escape their loneliness.

In 2012, a grant organisers received to subsidise the meals they provide, totalling around £11,000, was cut completely by Welwyn Hatfield Council, although the council did keep contributing a second grant to the club’s running costs.

For the past two years Friendship House’s trustees have been using money in their reserves to fund the lunches, but now the group’s chairman has said the centre may have to close in June.

Chairman Steve Russell told the WHT: “We have been unable to replace the funding.

“We have been struggling for a few years now, when it [the grant] was cut initially by a few per cent a year it made it difficult but we struggled on.

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“But when they took away the subsidy it was impossible to replace.

“We are a charity so we are unable to borrow money or borrow it against the building.”

He added: “It is difficult to predict when it will close.

“We are working on a month-to- month basis at the moment and we can’t accept a year’s worth of grant if we don’t think we will be here in a year.”

WHBC has offered the charity a grant of £12,750 for the coming year, but only on the terms they have enough reserves for that length of time.

Staff were forewarned about the closure in January and service users were told last week.

Manager Sue Gabbott said more than 200 people use the centre every week and the news had been “devastating”.

“It is a vital lifeline to so many people,” she said.

“It has changed so many lives.

“I don’t know what people are going to do, some of them don’t see anyone else unless they come here.

“A lot of them sit at home lonely, on their own, and some of them don’t want to, or can’t, go to Jimmy Mac’s.

“It is their family for some of them.”

For interviews with service users and more indepth coverage see this week’s Welwyn Hatfield Times, out now.

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