Published: 08/09/2017 11:00 - Updated: 08/09/2017 10:46

Inverness centre that tackled loneliness shuts its doors

Written byVal Sweeney

 

Dunbar Centre Pop-in
Co-founder Alan Michael with manager Susant Grant at the Dunbar Centre Pop-in, which is closing.

A POP-IN centre for older people in Inverness is reluctantly closing its doors today as it is no longer financially viable.

The Dunbar Centre Pop-in in Church Street opened six years ago with the aim of countering the impact of Highland Council spending cutbacks on older people. One of its main roles has been to tackle loneliness and social isolation.

But it is closing, citing various factors including declining numbers which have impacted on its income.

The venture, which operates as a café and social hub, is run by two paid staff, who will lose their jobs, plus a pool of volunteers.

Directors and co-founders Alan Michael and Maureen Hutcheson said it was with great regret the decision had been taken.

"While Maureen and I are very proud of what we have achieved, we are bitterly disappointed," said Mr Michael, who is also involved in several other friendship groups and organisations around Inverness. "It has just not become financially viable over the last few months to keep it open. We are just not getting the footfall.

"We have had many happy times in there and it has helped so many people who have got problems with depression and it has changed an awful lot of lives.

"We could have carried on for a few more months but we are losing money every month and so we took the decision to close.

"We have tried our best but we have to accept it is time to call it a day – very regrettably because Maureen and I put in a hell of a lot of work."

Mr Michael also pointed out that other friendship and social groups had opened in community halls and venues such as churches around Inverness over the last three or four years.

"As a result, people go to those because they are much closer to home," he said.

The pop-in, which rents the building from the council, is currently debt-free.  

"One of the reasons we are closing now is because we don’t owe anyone a penny," Mr Michael said. "To be fair to Highland Council, they have been very good to us. They have bent over backwards to help us."

The pop-in was aimed at people over 50 and operated Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm.

Mr Michael said in its busier times, Fridays had proved particularly successful with a variety of musical entertainment being staged.

As well as thanking the customers, he paid tribute to the staff and volunteers for their help and for providing some enjoyable times.

"They have helped a lot of people who have had problems to come through difficult times," he said.

"They have helped people who are socially isolated and lonely and they have greatly benefited from the friendly environment."

Inverness Millburn councillor Jimmy Gray, who officially opened the venture in 2011 as the then Inverness Provost, was also saddened to hear of the pop-in’s closure.

"It is really disappointing," he said. "It is a great meeting place for people. I was speaking to some people from the far north who always go in there when they are in Inverness.

"Whether there is a solution to keep it going, I don’t know. But presently it is not financially viable. It is a great pity."

He also pointed out there had been a big growth in cafés and eating places across the city which had perhaps impacted on the centre.

The building housing the Dunbar Centre was built as the first hospital in Inverness more than 500 years ago. Before the pop-in opened, it underwent major renovation work to create a bright, cheery venue.

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