Basildon hot meals under threat

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MEMBERS of a day centre where the future of a hot meals service is under threat have spoken out, as councillors prepare to discuss the issue.

As reported in last week’s Enquirer, following a recent tender process, no alternative providers have submitted bids to provide the catering service to Basildon Borough’s day centres – George Hurd in Basildon, Laindon Day Centre and Pitsea Day Centre.

Basildon Council can no longer afford to provide the service that currently costs £158,600 a year.

About 85 meals are served a day across the venues and the subsidy for each meal and snack is approximately £4.40.

The Council will now have to make a decision on the future of the service, but it is looking likely that the service will have to be stopped.

Members of the George Hurd Centre on Audley Way spoke out this week against the closure of the service as it emerged six members of the catering staff were handed their notice on Thursday, 5 September. One staff member at George Hurd has served the community for 30 years.

Chair of the George Hurd Centre Committee Brenda Steele MBE told the Enquirer: “It’s very disappointing that the people who come here – and some of them are less mobile – are the people who came to Basildon in the 1950s. They have supported the town and are now being kicking in the teeth like this.”

The centre boasts around 540 members who attend for their lunch and activities including book club, tai chi and keep fit.

Mrs Steele added: “Membership is going to drop and morale is down, but we are trying to be positive. People come here not just for their meal but to socialise as well. Basildon Council are doing something that I think is despicable, yet they have money to spend on someone to liaise with the travellers? I think this decision was made a long time ago and they have just been going through the motions to make it proper and legal.”

Emily Wedge, 84, moved to Basildon from London in 1959 and goes to the George Hurd Centre everyday. She said: “It’s wrong. It is nice to come here and the meals are lovely. I come here everyday and we are all good pals. We enjoy coming here to have a meal together. If they did stop them I’d miss my meal, it’s a real shame.”

Her feelings were echoed by fellow member John Cord, 67, who has been a member for the last 10 years. He said: “I use the catering and it’s splendid. At the moment there are more pessimists than optimists at the centre and people think it’s a done deal. It’s not just about hot meals though, it’s about the company.”

Cllr Terri Sargent, cabinet member for community said: “We tried to make the prospect as attractive as possible by paying utility and other costs and were also prepared to provide additional financial support in the short term – but in the end this was clearly not enough.
The fact that not one organisation or group came forward does emphasise how difficult it is to keep providing this service in its current form and in the current climate.”

The future of the service will be discussed at cabinet tonight (Thursday, 12 September) and full council on Thursday, 26 September.

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