'If we lose this, we'll be finished': Centre for lonely elderly to close

Milan Day Centre offers companionship and a 'home away from home' for elderly people from ethnic minorities.

Crowds of elderly men and women braved the cold at a protest in Kirkintilloch on Monday, in an effort to overturn the planned closure of a cherished “lifeline” day centre.

Milan Day Centre offers companionship and a “home away from home” for vulnerable elderly people from ethnic minority groups.

The centre is said to be the lifeblood of the South Asian community in the area, helping attendees combat loneliness – with one telling STV News that “if the centre closes, I will just sit at home and stare at a wall”.

This could soon be a reality for many, as East Dunbartonshire Council looks to close the Milan Centre by March 31.

‘It’s not like we can go anywhere else’

Prem Sood was a founding member of the centre 18 years ago, alongside her husband. Mrs Sood told STV they would grieve its closure like one would a child.

Prem Sood founded the centre with her husband 18 years ago. STV News

“We’re not asking for much. We just want this centre to remain open,” she said.

“When you lose something you’ve built with your own hands, it breaks your heart. If we lose this, we will be finished because it’s not like we can go anywhere else.”

She explained that the centre was a perfect resource for retirees who don’t live with their children, are unable to drive and would otherwise have no way to socialise with others.

Dozens of elderly and vulnerable attendees braved the cold on Monday to protest. STV News

“The workers support us mentally as well as physically. It’s the only place that most of us visit regularly – a lot of us can’t drive, either due to old age or health conditions,” she said.

“We’ve worked very hard our entire lives. We’re not coming for free, we pay to attend this centre.

“It is a lifeline for us – we can’t lose it.”

‘One size does not fit all’

After announcing the plans to close the centre, East Dunbartonshire Council suggested integrating attendees into another day centre in the area.

But Scottish Conservatives MSP Pam Gosal says this would be inappropriate, adding that “one size does not fit all”.

Scottish Conservatives MSP Pam Gosal attended the demonstration as well. STV News

“These people want to be around people that understand them culturally. Having those chats socially – it’s very important – the centre is a lifeline,” she said.

“A lot of them are already talking about their mental health and feeling depressed. Our NHS in Scotland is already under pressure, and closing centres such as this will only cause more issues.”

“East Dunbartonshire Council really need to understand that one size does not fit all.

“These people have cultural sensitivities, they have language barriers…we need to be here representing all voices.

Attendees say their mental health would be negatively affected by the closure. STV News

“At the end of the day all these people have contributed to the Scottish economy – socially, economically and culturally – so it’s important we listen to them.”

In a statement, East Dunbartonshire Council said: “East Dunbartonshire HSCP has helped to support the setting up of a number of community groups for older people run by older people themselves and their communities.

“In addition to providing funding and practical support to the setting up of two specific groups for older people from ethnic minority communities, the HSCP has offered to support the people who currently attend the Milan Centre, and their carers, to set up a similar group specific to their needs should they not wish to join any of the existing community groups or the attend the other day centres that continue to operate in East Dunbartonshire and are assessed by the Care Inspectorate as providing high quality care.

“The HSCP has continued to discuss the potential for Milan Customers to pool direct payments to set up their own day care service as a self-running entity, with Milan attendees and their families/supporters.”

A petition to garner support for the the cause has been launched here.

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