Hear our cry

TODAY we kick off the Golden Years series with the first urgent issue - the need for a drop-in centre for the elderly in Ipswich. Feature writer JAMES MARSTON asks why a plan to open one at St Lawrence's Church is taking so long to come to fruition.

TODAY we kick off the Golden Years series with the first urgent issue - the need for a drop-in centre for the elderly in Ipswich. Feature writer JAMES MARSTON asks why a plan to open one at St Lawrence's Church is taking so long to come to fruition.

PENSIONERS are today demanding a new drop-in centre, as the council's promise to build one has still not come to fruition.

Age Concern Suffolk says that despite pledges made by Ipswich Borough Council, nothing has materialised.

As reported in The Evening Star earlier this year, the council announced funding for a £1.1million scheme to turn redundant St Lawrence's Church in Ipswich town centre into a multi-use community centre.

The head of cultural and leisure services Billy Brennan, said at the time: “This is a very exciting project and we are grateful to the Government for its support. The funding go-ahead is excellent news and we are all looking forward to providing a dynamic centre in this magnificent building and hope all sections of the community will use it.”

It is still hoped that the renovations will be completed by the end of the year.

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But it was way back in February 2006 that councillors agreed £400,000 funding to renovate of St Lawrence's Church to establish a drop-in centre - with priority use allocated to Age Concern Suffolk.

Frustrated Daphne Savage chief executive of the charity today said older people are still waiting.

She said: “That resolution was made more than a year ago. I am asking the council to honour their resolution. Ipswich has been too long without a drop in centre for older people.

“We lost our drop in centre in the Town Hall in December 2004. We moved to the Corn Exchange but lost that in May 2005. “We offered the service for more than 20 years and well over a 1,000 people a week used it. It is very disappointing that no suitable venue has been offered by the council.

“It seems such a shame when there are churches like St Lawrence sitting empty and this would be an appropriate use for them.”

Mrs Savage said the drop in centre was crucial to older residents to keep them mobile and ensure social interaction. She added: “After coming in to town on the bus they arrive at one of the two bus stations and it can quite a struggle with a zimmer frame or walking stick.

“They are ready for a rest, and revival with a cup of tea before they start shopping. Many people popped in after shopping too, and some stayed all day. They cannot do that at any other coffee shop in town.

“We had a plan to equip a full-scale catering kitchen at St Lawrence's working in partnership with the night cafe helping the homeless which has had to close too.

“The drop-in centre we want would also have had an internet cafe because many older people like to use the Internet. It would be a place for Ipswich to be proud of.”

Helen Taylor, information manager for Age Concern, said: “The older generation need a drop in centre. It was very valuable and there is nothing to replace it. The current proposals made do not sound like it will be right for them.

“People face a number of issues as they get older. My job is to make sure we have the right information for them and we can answer their questions. It can be difficult for people in old age. They know what they want, but often do not know where to go to get the help they need.”

An IBC spokesman said: "We are creating a centre at St Lawrence's for the community and run by the community. We very much want older people to make full use of this exciting facility but we cannot exclude other members of the community. The St Lawrence centre will be run by a management board with an independent chairman."

Liz Harsant, IBC leader, gave her full support to the Star's campaign and said: "This council certainly does not and never will ignore the needs and aspirations of older people. We value their experience and remember they have a huge part to play in our community life. That experience is reflected and valued on this council where we encourage people of all ages to come forward and help run our town. Examples of where have helped older residents include bringing in the widest possible bus travel discount scheme for people over 60."

The St Lawrence Church plan is for:

A multi-use community centre, complete with catering facilities and toilets to be used as a drop-in centre, arts and exhibition space, performance area and meeting areas.

The conversion is complicated as St Lawrence's is a listed historic building and a new floor will be needed along with the refurbishment of the interior fabric.

The new centre will be run by a management board, chaired by the Ipswich Council for Voluntary Services.

Funding will come from the Council (£400,000) and the department for communities and local government (£700,000).

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Tell us what you think. What are the issues which affect you? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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See Thursday's Evening Star for a report on the scramblers aged in their 70s.

We asked a cross section of pensioners what their worries are:

PATRICIA Sullivan, 67, said she was concerned about the safety of older people at night.

She added: “The main thing that worries me is going out at night, older people can feel very vulnerable on the streets at night.

“I am also worried about going into care, it is very expensive and it's a big issue for lots of people. The government shouldn't be able to sell you home for your care”

Mrs Sullivan, who lives with her husband at their home in Dereham Avenue, Ipswich, said she still works part time in a bakery.

She said: “I am over retirement age but I like working with younger people. It keeps me active. The best thing about getting older is that you can do what you want.”

Mrs Sullivan said Ipswich should have a drop in centre.

She added: “Old age can be very isolating. A new place to go is long over due. Older people need somewhere where they can get company and feel safe.”

PHYLLIS Brinkley, 80, Ipswich, said she is concerned about day centres closing down.

Mrs Brinkley, of Whitton Church Lane, said: “They are such a big part of people's lives. They keep us going and are company for us. I cook for myself but it is better to eat with other people.”

Reliant on her family for transport, Mrs Brinkley said her independence is important to her.

She added: “It means a lot to be independent. I have a nice bungalow and my own things around me. Ipswich desperately needs a drop in centre for people my age. It's such a shame the last one shut.”

EVELYN Parnell, 83, said the slicing away of essential services for old people causes her concern.

Mrs Parnell, of Carlford Court, Ipswich, said: “We paid taxes all our working lives and now we are having things taken away like the drop in centre.”

She said she would not like to go into a residential home.

She added: “My daughters help me at the moment but I don't want to go into a home, even if there are any left. I'm my own person.

“I also think the younger generation listens to older people. They think we are a waste of breath.”

JOHN Pipe, 72, of Woodbridge Road, Ipswich, said: “I am single and live alone. I have a carer each morning and evening and meals on wheels. There should be a drop in centre. A lot of prople used to use it and there is nowhere now.

Mr Pipe said he spends up to £40 a week on taxis.

He said: “Transport is expensive. I get vouchers from the council to help but it costs a lot.”

MARIE Cooper, 96, of Starfield Close, Ipswich, said: “I am one of the lucky ones. I think it is marvellous to be my age and have my faculties. I am very happy and I don't ever get lonely. I go to a day centre every week in Foxhall Road.”

Mrs Cooper, who lives on her own, said Age Concern helped her increase her pension.

She added: “I was supplementing my pension with my savings but I don have to now. I don't have carers but I do have a cleaner who is also a friend. I hope I don't have to go into a home. I am happy without it.”

JILL Nunn, 72, of Shotley, said: “I never used to use the drop in centre but I can see why they need one. I don't think much about getting older. I don't want to go into a home but I enjoy life. I can get about. And everyday I'm doing something.”

JOHN Mumford, 62, of Copleston Road, Ipswich, said: “I'm approaching late middle age. The big issue is the number of places to care for older people. People are living longer and more people will need help and places like drop in centres and other day centres.

“Older people are often ignored and the younger generation doesn't seem to care. We've all paid taxes and we have a wealth of knowledge and experience but we are ignored.”

STELLA Hartwell, 84, of Kestrel Road, Ipswich, said: “I fell over and fractured my hip so the last couple of years have been difficult.

“I still get out and about. I don't want to sit around all day and I don't want to go into care. I want to carry on but I lost some of my confidence after my hip. I'm not over it completely.

“A lot of people are very kind and help me. I can't get out like I used to but I will try again to start using the bus.”

A volunteer for Age Concern, Mrs Hartwell said she enjoys an active and busy social life but does get lonely at times, especially during the winter months.

THOMAS Warren, 87, said he found Age Concern advice service invaluable.

He said: “I am a married father of six and served in the RAF. I was an engineer. I don't like it when people patronize me just because I am older.

“I like to be independent and I miss driving but I was told my reactions had got slower and I had to stop.”

Mr Warren said there should be a drop-in centre in the town for older people.

He added: “The drop in centre was a lovely refuge for a cup of tea and a chat and using the computer.”

JOYCE Stringer, 86, said she lives in her son's house and still looks after herself.

She added: “The best bit about getting older is you are not beholden to anyone. You can do what you want when you want. It can be frustrating not being able to do what you used to. You have to be careful. I'm just about mobile but I can't walk far.

“I think it would be nice to be looked after in a care home. That's how I feel about it.”

GEOFF Partridge, 73, of Otley, said the bus service in the country was good.

He said: “I often take the bus and we have on every hour into Ipswich. The drop in centre should be reinstated.”

Mr Partridge said he is concerned about what will happen to his wife if anything happened to him.

He said: “You try to leave them well provided for but I'm not really happy about the way social services work. They don't care quite enough.

“I don't want to go into care but I suppose I would accept it if I had to. I like the freedom of getting older. I can live life how I want. I don't have to fit in anymore. I enjoy life much more now.”

MOLLY Moore, 84, of Coronation Road, Ipswich, said she doesn't enjoy the advancing years.

She said: “I don't like getting older. I can't do the things I used to but I am mobile a certain amount. I do get lonely. I had seven children and it is difficult when they have all gone. I miss the company.

Mrs Moore said there should be a drop in centre in the town for those that want to use it.

Norman Ruffles, 94, of Rosebery Road, Ipswich, said he lost his wife in 1980 and now lives with his daughter.

He added: “Loneliness is a big issue for a lot of old people. Older people need somewhere where they can spend the day with other people.”

Mr Ruffles said he believed having an interest was crucial in old age.

He added: “I work as a volunteer and it keeps me stimulated. Though I'm definitely slowing up there's something to look forward to in life.

“I don't feel old really but I do feel lucky, I feel sorry for those people who have nothing in their lives.”

Mr Ruffles said older people can be ignored by the younger generation.

He said: “It varies. You can be ignored. Some will get up on a bus and give you their seat, others won't.”