Cries of “shame” rang out at a Lewisham Council cabinet meeting after councillors backed merging three adult day centres into one.  

Services at Cedar Court in Grove Park and Cinnamon Court in Deptford will now be moved to the Calabash Day Centre in Hither Green saving the council £139,000.  

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

Each centre caters for the frail and isolated as well as those who have physical disabilities,  mental health problems and dementia, who may now face up to an hour’s journey to avail of the services. 

The main issue of contention at cabinet on Wednesday was the Calabash Centre, a dedicated space developed by community development worker Cecile Murray and put in place in 1985 by Lewisham’s former leader, the late Andy Hawkins, specifically to provide a safe space for the BAME community.  

The Calabash will no longer be primarily for BAME elderly people after the merger goes ahead.  

Councillor Chris Best, deputy mayor and cabinet member for health and adult social care, said that 70 per cent of respondents to the council’s consultation were either “supportive or neutral” and that the users at the Calabash Centre were “particularly open to the idea of welcoming more people”.  

But she added: “It should be noted that the Lewisham Pensioners Forum wanted to see a BAME specific older adult day service continue.” 

The majority of consultation events took place during the day, with only two out of 16 taking place after 5pm – an issue for those opposing the move as the “wider community” did not have a chance to participate.  

A report found that the number of people using council adult day services in Lewisham more than halved from 75 in 2012/2013 to 34 in 2018/2019.  

Cllr Best said: “In recent years the number of people accessing these services has dramatically reduced. 

“This has led to the council paying for dozens of unused places each week, which is not a sustainable financial position for the council.  

“To ensure these services remain well attended and sustainable it has been proposed we run the service from one location. 

“This is highly beneficial for service users as we can offer them at a higher level of care through higher staffing levels and a wider range of activities.” 

A statement from the director of the Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies at Goldsmith University, Professor Joan Amin-Addo,  a Lewisham resident who presented the history of the Calabash Centre to the Healthier Communities Select Committee in October, was read out by Dr Marl’Ene Edwin.  

The historian described how the Calabash grew out the work of Cecile Murray, a community development worker who was motivated by the lack of provision for black elders.  

Prof Amin-Addo said: “The black elderly were not using council’s provision, the provision was underused, because they found most centres unwelcoming. 

“Cecile Murray, initially with scant resources, painstakingly gained support that made possible this space for the black elderly group that is firmly underpinned by cultural specific practices.  

“That space was recognised then and remains now potentially state of the art provision for the care of the black elderly who are vulnerable to shifting racial dynamics.” 

She said that many of the black people at the cabinet meeting were children and grandchildren of the Windrush generation.  

Prof Amin-Addo said: “We have lived with racism in every institution, we still do, so we wonder how Lewisham Council can be so complacent and casual about racism and its impact as to dismiss it such seeming ease, even as the council proposes dismantling an important and effective solution to elderly care that certainly took racism and its effects seriously.” 

Mayor Damien Egan said the comments on racism were something he “would dispute” but that he understood “passions were high”.  

Cllr Best disagreed with “some of those comments” and said the council was “pioneering in a lot of the work we’ve been doing on racism”.  

But Councillor Coral Howard said Lewisham needed more BAME services, not fewer.  

She said: “I think that this iconic venue requires a creative rethink, an evolution rather than a devolution in its public identity.  

“There is a feeling that services for the BAME community in Lewisham do need a rethink, to start to take on board those areas that are poorly served.  

“For instance to provide facilities for advice and support for young BAME residents seeking help with mental health issues, more involvement on policies to improve the educational experience and achievements of our young BAME people, and in particular becoming involved on how to mitigate and reduce school exclusion.” 

She added: “I think that Lewisham would be losing such a lot if the Calabash Centre is no longer primarily a special venue to help to meet the aspirations of the BAME community.” 

After the result, Cheryl McLeod, from Friends of the Calabash Centre, said they were expecting the result but will “keep putting on the pressure”.  

She said: “We will keep putting on the pressure to let them know we are not going away. 

“We’ve got to think about the elders that are coming up, the people in their 50s plus now – the population is only getting bigger.”