A decision to do away with the only BAME dedicated adult day centre in Lewisham may be quashed after councillors decided to call it in.  

Last month councillors voted to merge services at Cedar Court in Grove Park, Cinnamon Court in Deptford, and the Calabash Day Centre in Hither Green to make savings of £139,000.   

Each centre caters for the frail and isolated as well as those who have physical disabilities,  mental health problems and dementia. 

The move means that elderly members of the BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) community will lose the only dedicated adult day centre in Lewisham

It was argued that attendance at the centres had dropped and it was “no longer sustainable” to keep the three running separately.  

But the loss of the “iconic safe space” angered the public and some councillors.  

At an overview and scrutiny business panel meeting on Tuesday the consultation was criticised for denying the wider community a say.   

Vice-chair Cllr Sakina Sheikh said she was “disappointed” the BAME community was losing the centre.  

She said: “If we contextualise this decision, migration is a very violent experience for communities of colour and that intergenerational trauma requires spaces specifically for those communities to meet and have a space where they can heal – I think it is our council’s duty to provide those spaces.” 

On behalf of Friends of the Calabash she asked how the panel would address proposals to stay the decision until a more thorough consultation could be held.  

She said: “How will you address proposals made by the community to hold off on the decision for 18 months and give the Calabash the opportunity and support to reinstitute the infrastructure that has been lost to it because of budget cuts elsewhere?”

Ms Sheikh added she did not accept that the need for the service had decreased and more needed to be done to tell people about the Calabash.  

But officers said that people only find out about the service when they become eligible for it under the Care Act.  

Cllr Peter Bernards said a worker at the Calabash said there has been no attempt to encourage people to visit the centre and that is was “a systematic way of suppressing the numbers at the Calabash to make sure people don’t attend”. 

He also questioned the attendance figures and how they were collected.  

Laura Luckhurst, community development officer, said they had not heard similar comments relayed to them “through any formal conversations with the staff”.

She added: “The figures are based on attendance records given by the provider, they were weekly records and I personally took the information so I’m very confident they are accurate.” 

Cllr Coral Howard, who last month said there should be more BAME dedicated resources not fewer, questioned the claim attendance has gone down since 2011. 

She said: “In fact, the attendance increased at the Calabash in 2013/14 […] with only a big decrease in the last two years. 

“The context of this is that increased numbers in the population are living longer, 55 per cent of those using older adult day services are aged between 75 and 95 plus years. 

“The overall BAME population has been increasing in numbers and I found it puzzling why demand for building based services seem to have dropped substantially as one might expect it to increase.” 

Cllr Howard said the director of adult services had told her the reduction in demand was because more older people are choosing direct payments to commission their own services rather than have them provided by the local authority.  

But she added: “We haven’t been given any data at all on the number of persons assessed for day care who made this particular choice in the last four years and how successful or not they were in utilising their financial payments positively to access the right services.” 

She said research had shown individual budget ownership did not translate into better outcomes.  

According to the council, it was paying for an average of 15 spaces per day in commissioned service.  

Naomi Leatham, coordinator of a group of elders, who attend the centre, refuted this and said: “The current numbers are actually averaging 20 a day.

“Last year there was a significant drop because there was quite a number of deaths and it dropped to an average of 17.5.  

“I’m wondering where the 15 came in? There’s a discrepancy between the figures.” 

Ms Leatham, whose father used to attend the Calabash, added that the promise from the council that no one would have a journey time of more than an hour “really bugged” her.  

She said she lives 10 minutes from the centre and sometimes it would take an hour to get there with five pickups in between.  

It also emerged that the usual 28 days between the referral from committee and the decision at mayor and cabinet was not given because the issue was deemed “urgent”. 

Cllr John Muldoon said: “I do find this a matter of concern – I hope it’s not the start of a slippery slope to stick things through urgently without the full process of the constitution and full consideration to notification in the forward plan.” 

Chair Bill Brown said the “rational” decision was made based on finances and needs and that the officers have “done all that correctly”.  

But he said: “What hasn’t been considered is very clearly that the Calabash centre is seen and was set up with the intention of being a centre for the black African and Caribbean community in Lewisham.  

“The officers have rightly been given a task to carry out this work to get a result regarding the specific services in the Calabash and elsewhere but there’s clearly a conflict here where the community stands. 

“This is bigger than the item of work that’s been put forward by [the council officers] – the wider context of it has not been considered by the council.  

“If back in the day had it been made explicit that this is exactly what it is then this item might not have come about. 

“But it wasn’t explicit as a black and Caribbean centre so it wasn’t for the officers to consider as part of it.” 

The panel voted to refer the decision back to mayor and council, which will take place on November 20.