Two day centres for older people in Hendon and East Finchley will be shut down as a new programme offering borough-wide activities is brought in.
Age UK Barnet has announced it will not run the Meritage Centre in Church End and Ann Owens Centre in Oak Lane as day centres from this spring.
The charity agreed a new contract with Barnet Borough Council last year to provide more services borough-wide, and in order to achieve this, it can no longer afford to maintain the centres.
Jonathan Fenton, chair of Age UK Barnet Trustees, said: “The spiralling costs, both direct and indirect, of maintaining these services and our need to extend our range of services right across Barnet has meant that the trustees have taken the necessary decision to make changes.
“Continuing to operate the centres in the absence of specific funding for this purpose would involve us running at a very substantial deficit and would put at risk our ability to run other vital services for our clients in future.”
More than 120 older people use the centres every week to catch up with friends and take part in a range of activities such as computer lessons, exercise classes, bingo and bridge.
Louise Jennings, 91, has attended the Ann Owens Centre, where she enjoys playing cards and taking part in quizzes with her friends, for ten years.
Speaking to the Times Series, she said: “It means everything to me. My family lives nearly two hours' drive away and my neighbours are young and are at work most days so I’m in the house on my own – I’m completely isolated.
“But Ann Owens is great. I get to meet and talk to people, which is important to keep your brain active. I’m absolutely devastated we’re going to lose it.
“I did nursing throughout the Blitz and was a foster parent for 30 years. I have worked and done all I can to help Barnet, but now no one cares about me. I used to go to a centre run by Age UK in Friern Barnet and the same thing happened - they said it would close and we would have activities elsewhere, but they never found anywhere suitable."
Seventy-seven-year-old Morley Fass, who has dementia and Parkinson’s, also attends the Ann Owens Centre every week.
Mr Fass, who lives in North Finchley, said: “When I wake up it gives me a sense of wellbeing to know I’m going to the centre. It also helps my wife who cares for me – it’s the only time she gets a break from me.”
Age UK said it will aim to use the buildings for “drop-in” activities, although it is not known how often these will be held, and plans to hire facilities across the borough in order to provide more services closer to people’s homes.
The centres are run with the help of 12 volunteers and seven members of staff, but the changes mean redundancies are likely.
Volunteer Eleanor Fretton said: “The people who come here have quite complex health issues like dementia, severe mobility problems, Parkinson’s, blindness and learning difficulties, and for a lot of them it’s the only time they have company.
“I don’t see how moving sessions to different places will work. The people here are dependent on transport, and who will run the sessions if they’re making staff redundant?”
But Mr Fenton said Age UK has already been running its Neighbourhood Services for nine months and has started 20 new activities for older people across the borough.
He added: “By operating in this way, we can reach far greater numbers of older people in need and give people more choice. Our staff and volunteers will support our existing users in navigating the choices available to them across the borough and we are confident everyone will find something for them.
“The trustees and management of Age UK Barnet are very proud of the work that has been done in our day centres over the years and are sorry that these changes have to be made. At the same time we are looking forward to seeing more people use our services.”
Councillor Sachin Rajput, cabinet member for adults, said: “I appreciate change can be unsettling for some people but we have found that the change to the neighbourhood model is proving popular.
“Services are now being provided at more than 40 locations across the borough, with Age UK Barnet providing services at 17 new locations since the introduction of the neighbourhood model. The number of people being reached by Age UK Barnet’s services has risen by more than 1,000 since April 1.”