‘It is our lifeline’ say devastated Age UK members

Age UK members at the Cherry Tree Centre in Burgess Hill
Age UK members at the Cherry Tree Centre in Burgess Hill

Members of Age UK in Burgess Hill have spoken of their devastation after being told the centre in the town will close next year.

Age UK says it has seen a ‘natural decline’ in members at the centre and despite its best efforts the centre has ‘not appealed’ to the more active younger older residents in the town.

Bob Scott, 79, and Fred Green, 95, at the centre

Bob Scott, 79, and Fred Green, 95, at the centre

The charity, who will close its Cherry Tree Centre when its lease runs out in March, also said the location of the centre in the town was ‘not central enough’.

It has pledged to offer its current services at new venues across the town from April and says it will be consulting with stakeholders over the next few months to make sure the new services are in line with both what the charity is contracted to provide and what the community needs.

Member John Alderson, 85, of St Wilfrids Road, Burgess Hill, said the news of the closure was ‘soul-destroying’.

“It is really sad, for people like myself it is lovely to come here – it is a place to socialise and it is a nice family community,” he said.

It is our lifeline – my life wouldn’t be anything without this centre.

Maureen Smither, 77

“Everyone is up in arms and it is soul-destroying for a lot of us. We all come here a few times a week, we play bowls and the cooks are fantastic. Where are we going to go now?”

Myrtle Williams, 88, of St Johns Road, Burgess Hill, has been a member at the centre for 14 years.

She said: “I started coming here with my husband and we found it was such a happy place.

“My husband passed away in 2010 and we all planted a cherry tree outside the centre in memory of him.

Myrtle Williams, 88, John Alderson, 85, and Maureen Smither, 77

Myrtle Williams, 88, John Alderson, 85, and Maureen Smither, 77

“My friends have kept me here for so long, it is my lifeline and it is like losing a family, where are we going to go now – we look out for eachother here.

“I will be so sad to see it close as I have so many happy memories here – we really don’t want it to close.”

Maureen Smither, 77, of Manor Close, Burgess Hill, started coming to the centre in 2011 after losing her husband.

“Myrtle brought me here, I hadn’t been out of my house for about a year,” she said.

“I started coming here once a week, now I come three times a week. I am in charge of the flowers and cards.

“It is our lifeline – my life wouldn’t be anything without this centre. If I can’t come here I don’t know what I’ll do – we are not going down without a fight.”

Fred Green, 95, an ex-POW who worked on the Burma ‘death railway’, has been going to the centre for ten years.

“It has been my second home since I lost my wife – I love the place,” he said.

“The food is fantastic and I have met lots of friends here, I nearly had a tear falling when we found out.”

Bob Scott, 79, an ex-serviceman, of Hammonds Ridge, Burgess Hill, started coming to the centre after the Royal British Legion (RBL) building closed in the town.

“When that closed I was at loss and just stayed at home all the time,” he said.

“The doctors recommended I come here to circulate more. I am an outgoing person, I have always been that way, I like communicating with people.

“Everyone does their own thing here and that is the beauty of the centre. I have made lots of friends here and I look forward to coming here.

“We are a big happy family here and it is going to take me back to where I was when the RBL building closed.

“It keeps my brain active here and I am willing to put up a fight.”

Member Norma Somerville, 81, of Badgers Walk, Burgess Hill, said she was ‘shocked’ to find out the centre was closing.

“I look forward to coming here once a week and I am upset for a lot of people here,” she said.

“Most of us here live on our own, as we have lost our partners, and it is lonely at home.

“I am ready to fight this even if we have to walk through the town, I think a lot of people would do this.”

Diane Henderson, chief executive for Age UK West Sussex, said the charity was ‘trying to move on and modernise things’ and due to membership decline it ‘needs to change’.

“We need to provide care for more people in Burgess Hill and we are trying to deliver the right care to existing and new members,” she said.

“According to Age UK research, the number one indicator of an older person’s wellbeing is whether they regularly participate in physically and mentally stimulating activities.

“We are grateful to receive funding from both West Sussex County Council and Mid Sussex District Council to provide activities for older people

for prevention and wellbeing.

“Our approach of providing a variety of physical and mental activities centred around food is widely seen as successful in helping keep older people independent for longer.

“However, with many of our members in their eighties and above we have had a natural decline in numbers and despite our best efforts the club like atmosphere and model of a centre has not appealed to more active younger older residents of Burgess Hill.

“The increasingly large gap between income and operating costs of an ageing building and a membership that has declined over the past five years from over 300 to 187, means that we need to change – and going out into the community is the natural solution – and one that we have already had a great deal of success with in Shoreham and Adur.

“We would love to hear from people in the town who can offer these venues.”