Battle over Surrey day centres future as community rallies after sudden closures

A fight to “get the community back” is brewing after Elmbridge Borough Council’s sudden closure of its day centres.
Photo outside Molesey Centre, Geoff Miller 88 (Image Tracey Melson)Photo outside Molesey Centre, Geoff Miller 88 (Image Tracey Melson)
Photo outside Molesey Centre, Geoff Miller 88 (Image Tracey Melson)

In November 2023, the local authority shocked users when it shut all of its community centres for fire safety and staff training needs – leaving many who use the venues “stuck indoors with no reason to leave the house”, according to a local volunteer. The council said it would reopen the sites but, two-months later, the majority of the seven centres are only open one day a week – leaving vulnerable people isolated and cut off from friends.

Residents are pushing back with a petition calling on Elmbridge Borough Council to do more.

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Tracey Melson began volunteering at the Molesey Centre in Bishop Fox Way when she saw the massive positive impact it had on her father.

Inside Molesey Centre (Image Tracey Melson)Inside Molesey Centre (Image Tracey Melson)
Inside Molesey Centre (Image Tracey Melson)

She said: “My mum died three years ago my dad didn’t want to do anything. We managed to get him to go and now it’s his complete and utter lifeline with a whole new friendship group he would never have had.”

She said she felt fortunate because her father was able to get to the Molesey centre every day on his mobility scooter but all that has been taken away.

While there is daily provision again, it is spread across the borough. The opening days are listed below:

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Mondays: Cobham, Walton and Weybridge CentresTuesdays: Cobham, Walton and Hersham CentresWednesdays: Cobham and Walton CentresThursdays: Cobham, Walton and Claygate CentresFridays: Cobham, Walton and Molesey Centres

On February 7 the council’s cabinet will consider whether to lease the Thames Ditton Community Centre to the resident group Vital Village.

The council is also running a transport service to the centres, costing £5 a day but Tracey said that puts it out of reach for some people, while others such as her father are unable to use it at all because of compatibility issues with his mobility scooter.

She said: “It’s okay for some but £25 a week is a lot and you have to pass a risk assessment but you have to be steady on your feet to use the bus.

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“It’s not the same, his confidence has deteriorated, all of their confidence has deteriorated. Of course if you ask them , they say they’re fine, but you can see it’s not.”

The petition is asking for the centres to fully reopen, and argues that the closures have left people missing out on the different daily events such as hairdressing, chiropody, yoga as well as the fresh hot meals – and especially Christmas lunch.

“All of which were suddenly cancelled leaving a lot of people stuck in doors with no reason to leave the house.

“We feel it’s such a loss for our whole community to be without these facilities now. To be open one day a week is helpful but there are so many people missing out due to the high demand”, the petition read.

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The council has published an extensive update on the future of its centres where it outlined was it was “not doing”.

It read: “Concern has been expressed by some that we are closing the centres for the community and that we are abandoning our older residents.

“None of this is the case. What we do want to do, working with our partners and the community, is make sure we have the most appropriate support in place to meet the needs of the community into the future.

“We are sorry for the anxiety caused and would like to set out a few updates on what we are doing.

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“We will close our centres on certain days to support our staff with enhanced safety training. These are adhoc closures only.

“We may also need to revise the opening times of some centres; this will include day closures at some allowing us to consolidate our staff at other centres. ”

It said it was continuing to review the service but expected the part-closures to remain in place until “early spring” by which time it hoped to be able to increase its offerings.

The council statement read: “We are committed to supporting our residents in the best way possible. We want to provide an enriching and robust service.

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“We have been making sure the necessary safety processes and procedures are embedded within our community support services.

“The previous issues of concern have been mitigated, these included employee ratios for a safe evacuation of the centres in the event of a fire, especially considering our clients with higher needs and those who are less abled who attend our centres.

“We are now in a position to offer services from all Elmbridge centres for the community, and we will continue to work on expanding that offering in the weeks ahead through investing in the development of our community service employees and enhanced safety training for all core centre teams.

“This phased and safe return to services is vital in ensuring we are building a robust and resilient service meeting the needs of the community.”

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