‘It will be devastating’: Age UK Northants day centres put at risk again as funding nears end

The chief executive says the charity wants to do its ‘damndest’ to keep them open, but it relies heavily on external funding

By Carly Odell
Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 5:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 5:14 pm

A county-wide charity that supports hundreds of vulnerable older people is at risk of having to cut services as funding nears an end.

Age UK Northamptonshire has benefited from external funding from a social wellbeing contract through Northamptonshire County Council’s Public Health pot for the last three years.

The contract was due to end at the end of March this year, however after the charity’s campaign last year, an additional year of ‘transition funding’ was agreed.

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The day centres that offer vital support to so many older people may be in danger once again. Photo: Kirsty Edmonds.

This funding will run out in March 2021 and then the charity will be left without any external funding, which it relies on to keep its seven day centres open.

Chief Executive, Christopher Duff, is now concerned that the charity is back where it was a year ago and it could be in danger of losing its day centres that provide vital care and respite for older people.

Christopher said: “That extra year’s funding that the council did grant has been a life saver especially because of coronavirus and lockdown.

“Last year we were looking at massive day centre cuts that would have a big impact on clients and unfortunately that is going to be the same again.

Age UK Northamptonshire's service manager Fern Overton and chief executive Christopher Duff. Photo: Kirsty Edmonds.

“Coronavirus has just pushed us back a year.

“We’ve had to close our services down and adapt to remote and emergency services. Thankfully that funding helped us to do that.

“Now we are trying to set up the daycare again with the rule of six in place.”

Some day services started back up this week and the charity is hoping to get the Vernon Centre open again soon with reduced capacity and clients in groups of six.

But Christopher is concerned that the centres, which provide much needed, regular support for around 300 people, many of whom have dementia, may only be open for a few months.

He added: “We have no certainty of funding next year. It does not look like the council will fund our provisions next year.

“If we try and get the day centres up and running and then have to close them again next year, that will be devastating for our clients.

“What I’m worried about is getting these all up and running by October or November then when we are told by Christmas there is no more funding.

“We want to do our damndest to keep them open but we always rely on external funding.

“We will get hit again at the end of March when the transition funds run out and that will make it incredibly difficult to run the day centres.”

With the certainty of external funding entirely unknown, the charity is doing everything it can to secure the future, but if day centres do have to shut for good, there are serious concerns about the health of the clients.

“The big thing is our clients haven’t had the day centre services for a long time and 80 percent were isolated before lockdown so that will have gone up now,” Christopher continued.

“I think there will be a huge amount of misery generated for the clients and more issues will come through in terms of health and wellbeing and mental health.

“It will come back to clients being reliant on social services.”

In the meantime, the charity wants to use more IT hardware to help clients communicate as well as offering more flexibility to its services.

Christopher is keen to make sure the charity is adapting to the challenges and is also being innovative.

Northamptonshire County Council has said there will be a new service contract that organisations can bid to win for the next financial year, but Christopher is not confident Age UK Northants will meet the criteria.

Lucy Wightman, Director of Public Health, Northamptonshire County Council, said: “Rather than a cut in funding, this relates to the end of a contract held by Commsortia who subcontract a number of voluntary organisations.

“A new service contract is going to be put out to tender at the end of this year for which organisations can bid to win.

“A time-limited extension to this contract was agreed last year to allow for more time for voluntary sector organisations to find alternative funding sources, an approach agreed in collaboration with the organisations affected and supported by Commsortia.

“Like many voluntary organisations locally, we understand that these organisations have contributed to the response to the Covid-19 pandemic and have had to respond to additional pressures due to lockdown and so we will continue to work closely with them via Commsortia to ensure they are able to explore alternative options for future funding by the end of the contract.”

A number of other voluntary organisations, including The Autumn Centre, Catch 22, Dostiyo, Glamis Hall, Marlow House Welcomes, Mayday Trust, Midland Heart, Naash, Serve and ACA, are also in danger of closing or having to reduce services if external funding cannot be found.

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