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Elderly group ‘driven out’ of Key Centre by county council price hike

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A SOCIAL group in Frome for elderly people, who meet weekly for coffee at The Key Centre, say they have had to find other premises due to Somerset County Council ‘quadrupling’ their hall hire fees.

The group was founded by Jenny Baker 13 years ago who explained that for the first 11 years, the space – used for an hour on a Thursday – was given to the group for free. However, they were then asked to pay £8 for the hour, which the 10-15 members jointly paid.

In October this year, Jenny says she received a letter from Somerset County Council saying the hall hire fee would now be £15 per hour for up to eight people, and £25 for more people, plus the cost of public liability insurance. As a result, she says the club has been forced to close.

Jenny’s husband, Clive Baker said, “This was absolutely unacceptable to us, so we had no choice but to close, which really upset the group. For some, it was the one time in the week that they really looked forward to. Over the last few years, the Key Centre has been run into the ground. It was originally built for the local community and was used by a lot of vibrant local groups, but now it’s almost a very sad empty building with only the Christ Church School Nursery. We have been driven out, as well as the short mat bowls club, whose price went from £20 to £50.

“Most people think that Somerset County Council is trying to force groups out, by over pricing, so that the Key Centre isn’t being used so they have no option but to close it.

“Luckily, we think we have found another hall, but it is not as convenient to get to as the Key Centre is.”

A Somerset County Council spokesperson said, “The council’s property team took over the running of the building last year and in line with normal practice, carried out a review of the charging policy, which had not changed for some time.

“This review highlighted that a number of costs now needed to be included, such as repairs, care and general utilities, which meant the cost of hiring the hall needed to be increased.

“However, some groups may qualify for a reduced charge, subsidised by the council and we would encourage them to check if they are eligible by calling 0300 1232224.”

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