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Edinburgh Live
Edinburgh Live
Jacob Farr

Vital East Lothian community centre left facing closure with roof caving in

Hollies community hub which has supported vulnerable members of the Musselburgh community for 60 years is in danger of closing due to financial and building issues.

The centre is billed as a safe, accessible space for vulnerable members of the community, whether that be pensioners, disabled residents and their carers or young parents.

But the place is said to be in grave danger as funds are quickly running out and the hub's roof is literally falling in on them.

All in all the community space will require thousands of pounds in investment to keep the business in operation.

Liz Shannon, 62, Hollies manager, has been with the hub for over a decade, and has said that the situation is drastic with staff offering to take pay cuts if it would help the situation.

She says that the community service, that offers an affordable community café, lunch club, bus service and ladies hairdresser, has always struggled for funds but that since the pandemic things have become worse.

She adds that in 2018, Hollies lost funding support from the Integrated Joint Board (IJB) containing East Lothian council and NHS Lothian.

Liz claimed at the time the IJB requested that the charity become a day hospital but when Hollies asked their users about the change they were met with 271 rejections and an overwhelming level of support for the service to stay the same.

The funding accounted for around one third of the centres operating costs - something that has been incredibly difficult to cover due to a global pandemic that put their users health at risk.

On the situation that Hollies is facing, Liz said: “We have struggled for many years to keep the place open.

“Up until the end of 2018 we had a service level agreement that allowed the IJB to part fund us. But we were asked to change our service to a day hospital that would administer care to vulnerable individuals.

“But this was scrapped due to our members needing our services to remain the same. As a result we lost the funding and there is a feeling that the local authority may not fully respect what it is we do here.

“We offer a number of services such as a community café that allows us to raise funds so that we can pay wages and carry out services. Alongside this we have a lunch club where people come together for an affordable lunch with entertainment and activities put on.

“We also run a bus service that can collect our hub users and bring them to Hollies. Our ladies hairdresser is another service that is invaluable and would be sorely missed if those using the service were no longer able to get an affordable haircut.

“A lot of our users are unable to afford, access or feel safe in other spaces due to their health, age or other reasons. The loss of the centre would be catastrophic for the centre.”

What has harmed the centre alongside the loss of local authority funding has been the pandemic.

Hollies relied heavily on fundraising among other avenues to raise funds for their services but the pandemic stopped all of this from taking place.

As well as this, the centre lost a number of their clients, some of whom have only recently left their homes for the first time in two years.

Liz was also forced to hire additional staff in order to meet the needs of serving vulnerable clientele through social distancing and sanitising.

All of this combined would be a recipe for disaster on its own but unfortunately Hollies has also been battling problems with the hub roof.

After running the centre independently, it is understood that the trustees agreed to hand control of the lease back over to East Lothian council in 2004.

As part of the agreement, Hollies does not have to pay rent and has the lease for 99 years. However they are responsible for the maintenance of the property, meaning that they have to cover the costs of the worn down roof.

After visits from two separate surveyors, neither of which has a stake in making a profit, the roof has been marked for urgent repair.

It has become so bad that the boardroom ceiling has completely collapsed.

As a result of all of this, Liz is pleading with the council to help meet the costs of the roof in order to save this vital service.

She added: “Covid really hurt us as it stopped our ability to be able to fundraise and without that we really struggle.

“We brought on fantastic members of staff who have helped to ensure that when our services returned they were able to do so within the Covid-19 protocols. After all, we are all about our users feeling safe.

“The café and the hairdressers would raise funds so that we were able to pay for things like the bus service or entertainment for our lunch club.

“Alongside this we have had a problem with our roof. We have put thousands of pounds in over the years but now it is at the stage where it is collapsing.

“We just simply cannot afford to cover all of our operational costs and to repair the roof independently and so we are asking East Lothian council to do the right thing.

“The people of Musselburgh have been so supportive of the service that we offer and have rallied around by signing petitions to save Hollies. So we are asking for the council to do the right thing by the people of Musselburgh.

“What we offer is a safe space for a variety of people. A number of the elderly community use us because they can be picked up and dropped off. They know that if they come to our café that our staff are encouraged to chat to them over a period of hours.

“We tackle social isolation everyday whilst also offering affordable services that keep the elderly in our community safe and entertained.

“If we are forced to close then carers will no longer have an understanding space to come with those they care for. We do not judge.

“Hollies would be an immense loss to the Musselburgh community through the loss of our affordable café and services. We are asking for the council to support us and keep us alive.”

An East Lothian Council spokesperson said: “Services at the facility known as The Hollies are provided by a Community Hub and East Lothian Council officers have worked with the management team in the past to facilitate possible external funding sources.

“This has included arranging for them to meet with a representative of the Musselburgh Business Partnership to give advice on their business and funding. Council staff would be happy to assist further in terms of offering advice or signposting to potential sources of support, if this would prove helpful.

“Under the terms of the lease from the council to the Hollies, the tenant (the Hollies) is responsible for all aspects of repair and maintenance, this includes keeping the building in a wind and watertight condition, including maintenance and repair to the roof.”

To support Hollies remaining open, please sign their online petition here.

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