CROYDON IN CRISIS: Mayor Perry’s cuts are beginning to bite in his Tory heartlands, with the long-established Selsdon Centre for the Retired facing the prospect of closure next year. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
A respected and admired charity that supports older people in one of the more affluent parts of the borough could be forced to fold after being hit with a double-whammy by Croydon’s Conservative-controlled council: the complete withdrawal of their annual grant from the Town Hall, and a sharp increase in rent payable to the council.
“Without a significant cash injection over the next few months, the centre will have to close its doors and we will have to institute the voluntary liquidation of the charity in the spring of next year,” Nick Bonneywell, the chair of trustees of the Selsdon Centre for the Retired, has written in a letter to supporters.
The Selsdon Centre has been operating for almost 50 years, after a group of local churches running a neighbourhood care scheme identified “a need for a meeting place where local, retired people could meet for company, recreation and friendship”.
Backed by Help the Aged, the Selsdon Centre for the Retired was opened in April 1979 by the then Mayor of Croydon, Keith Wells. Based in the Sainsbury’s building on Addington Road since 2003, the Selsdon Centre for the Retired could now be closed in April 2024 thanks to “executive” Mayor Jason Perry.
The Centre had received an annual grant of £13,500 from Croydon Council “for many years”. But in common with every other charity and third-sector voluntary group in the borough, Mayor Perry stopped all such grants in the council budget he passed in March, when also pushing through an extraordinary 15per cent hike in Council Tax. Only Green and LibDem councillors voted against Perry’s budget; the Labour opposition group abstained.
And now the real hardships of council cuts, brought about after years of mismanagement at the council had run up debts of £1.6billion, are beginning to erode the fabric of some of the organisations that hold the borough together.
Describing their decision as “sad and disappointing news”, the Selsdon Centre letter distributed to clients was quite straightforward in describing what has led to their parlous position.
On Bonneywell’s letter, at the bottom of the Centre’s A4 headed notepaper, above the old-style typography with the words “Supported by Croydon Council”, someone has sought to emphasise the point by writing in black capitals the word “NOT”.
“The current situation has arisen largely because the London Borough of Croydon has withdrawn its financial support for the Centre over the last few years, to the point where, in the current year, it does not offer any assistance.
“In earlier years, we received a general grant towards the day-to-day running expenses and financial assistance with the non-domestic rates on the premises. In addition, we paid only a small basic rent. As of today, the general grant has been removed in its entirety, along with support for non-domestic rates.
“As a final set-back, we have been informed that the rent to the Council will be increased by a significant sum as from April 2023.
“The effect of all these changes is that we have estimated a large current loss for this year, which will have to be funded from our reserves and which is unsustainable beyond the current year ending 31st March 2024.”
The trustees have asked all their clients and supporters – who will almost all live in Conservative-voting wards and within Chris Philp’s Croydon South parliamentary constituency – to write to councillors, MPs and other agencies. “Hopefully, they will consider their policies and support this wonderful Centre of ours, allowing it to continue.”
Councillors from two wards – Selsdon and Addington Village (Joseph Lee and Robert Ward) together with Selsdon Vale and Forestdale (Andy Stranack and Fatima Zaman) – hold their monthly surgery meetings at… the Selsdon Centre for the Retired.
The next scheduled surgery meeting is on Saturday September 2, from 10am, and officials from the under-threat charity are asking all supporters to turn up to lobby Mayor Perry’s colleagues to see whether “something can be done so we can continue to support the elderly and retired of the community to have a safe space to meet with friends and enjoy some entertainment or have a home-cooked meal”, they say.
Peter Underwood, the Green Party candidate in last year’s mayoral election, said today, “Mayor Perry’s double attack on Croydon volunteers by cutting funding and raising rents is an absolute disgrace.
“I know that charities and voluntary groups all over Croydon are struggling because of the Mayor’s heartless choices over where he spends our money,” Underwood said.
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