Shopmobility service users turned out in numbers and “caused a spectacle” as they protested about the imminent loss of their accessibility hub.
They were cheered on by shopkeepers as they staged a demonstration along the length of Main Street in Coatbridge to highlight closure of the “lifeline” service, which allows disabled people and those with mobility issues to hire scooters and wheelchairs to help them access the town centre.
Now the group plan to repeat the protest this afternoon and again next week, in the hope of finding a last-minute solution before the hub and its sister facility in Motherwell close their doors on October 28 after being deemed “no longer financially viable”.
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The protest was organised by Shopmobility users John Sharp and his mum Margaret, and saw 50 users of the service travel from the Exchange Place hub to the town centre’s Fountain and back with placards and megaphones – applauded by traders from local businesses.
John told Lanarkshire Live : “It went really well and we were delighted with the response; we wanted to raise awareness and for everybody to know what’s happening and that we’re going to fight tooth and nail to save this service.
“Our scooter convoy went the whole length of Main Street, and we’re going to be there again this afternoon and next Thursday and hope that a resolution is found before it closes – it’s a really stressful time.”
He added: “I had a moment of inspiration in the days beforehand and went into every shop to tell them we’d be passing by and to ask if they’d come out to give us the thumbs up – they wanted to encourage us and are upset about the loss of Shopmobility too as they know they’re going to lose business.
“A lot of people are going to be stuck at home watching TV if it closes and they can’t get out; they’ll become depressed and have health problems, and it will cause more pressure on GPs and the NHS.
“We’re just hoping there’s a change of heart and the money comes from somewhere to keep it open; it’s not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things.”
Last week’s initial protest was also attended by Airdrie Central councillor Janice Toner and b y Fulton MacGregor, the Coatbridge MSP, who said its loss would be “a very poor indictment of how disabled people are treated in our society”.
Users were informed last month that Shopmobility, which is run by the Health and Wellness Hub charity, would cease due to “unsustainable” costs as the two bases cost £64,000 per year to operate and have been losing £5000 per month since April.
It was previously run by North Lanarkshire Council until 2019, and users now want the local authority to return to overseeing or funding the service – which has three staff members, who have received redundancy notices.
The Health and Wellness Hub said the cost of continuing to operate the two Shopmobility facilities is “unsustainable and is impacting on [our] other services”, adding that the “difficult decision” came after a “comprehensive” financial review and that “all possible options for running the service have been considered.”
A spokesperson for North Lanarkshire Council said: “The council helped the charity to try and source alternative funding to allow the Shopmobility service to continue, and we are disappointed it is closing.
“It was previously run by Town Centre Activities, an arms-length organisation managed by the council.
“With significant budget savings to be made for the year ahead, the council is not in a position to provide funding for this service.”
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