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Praise for Big Braw Community campaign as social centre is saved from closure

Whitehill Activity Group.
Whitehill Activity Group.

One of Scotland’s biggest local authorities is backing our Big Braw Community and keeping a neighbourhood centre open.

South Lanarkshire Council has been praised by campaigners and MSP Monica Lennon for keeping under-threat Whitehill Neighbourhood Centre open after recognising that its closure would increase loneliness and isolation.

For generations, families in Whitehill, Hamilton, had flocked to their local neighbourhood centre, which houses dozens of clubs and activities for young and old alike, from judo classes to OAP lunches.

But major budget pressures put the centre at risk of closure, leaving campaigners in tears as they fought to keep their social hub, which had become the heart of their community. Deborah Cunningham, who runs Whitehill Activity Group, one of the many organisations that use the centre, said: “Hundreds rely on the centre.

“It is one of the few places they know they can go to keep warm, have a hot drink and something to eat, and there are always friendly faces to greet them.

“For years now we’ve been running lunch clubs and various activities that involve bringing young and old together. The centre really is the beating heart of the whole community.

“It’s a fact of life that for many who come here, this centre is the only place they can come to socialise with others.

“Without the centre, this place would no longer be the same thriving community where people do their best to look out for each other. Closure would have driven our community apart, left our most vulnerable in despair and our young people with nowhere they could go to take part in productive activities.”

‘Tears of joy’

South Lanarkshire Council admits it was left juggling tightening budgets as they struggled to keep places and services open. But days ago, it announced it was lifting the closure threat hanging over Whitehill.

Deborah said: “Our tears of despair turned to tears of joy. The council listened and realised the huge social implications of closing the centre would be catastrophic and felt for many years ahead. What was under threat was something money just could not buy.

“Young, struggling families, children who had nowhere else to go, and elderly people on their own, all relied on the centre. Seeing it close down would have devastated everyone.”

The Post’s Big Braw Community campaign to end loneliness calls on local authorities and government to consider the long-term effect closing facilities like Whitehill will have.

In partnership with Age Scotland, the Sunday Post has revealed that loneliness affects more than a quarter of a million older Scots who can go a fortnight or more without speaking to another person, leaving them at a 50% increased risk of developing dementia and a 30% increased risk of strokes or heart problems. Loneliness also affects 15% of young people, leaving them at higher risk of dropping out of further education and not reaching their full career potential.

The World Health Organisation has warned of a “public health crisis” if we do not tackle loneliness, which is worsening due to cost-of-living increases.

Local authorities face huge problems juggling budgets that no longer meet their needs, with services and community centres across the country under threat of closure.

But South Lanarkshire Council leader Joe Fagan said: “I am pleased to support the Sunday Post’s Big Braw Community campaign. As a council, we recognise the impact loneliness and isolation can have on people, ­particularly the elderly. The work our dedicated service, Seniors Together, does to tackle this issue is exemplary and vital to our elderly community.

“It is only by working with, and listening to, our communities that we can put in place measures which can help reduce isolation and loneliness.

“We committed to ­keeping Whitehill Neighbourhood Centre open because, despite the truly awful and painful decisions we had to make in our budget, we listened to our residents.”

The hard-pressed council has found ways of keeping centres open by allowing communities to take over halls. Fagan said: “We have announced a non-recurring £1 million Community Fightback Fund, which will provide transitional funding to help community groups take over any other local halls SLLC feels they need to withdraw from as it seeks to bridge its own spending gap.

“Due to government ­under-funding and rising costs, that gap is £7m for 2024-25 alone. But everybody needs to understand that our budget was only balanced because of the difficult decisions we were forced to take.

“They also need to know this is because the Scottish Government is not providing fair funding for councils – and every indication is this situation will continue. So even more awful decisions are likely to be needed in the years ahead.”

Lanarkshire MSP Monica Lennon, also a supporter of Big Braw Community, is delighted the Whitehill centre will remain open. She said: “This is the best news for this close-knit community. I know just how much the centre means to all age groups who use the centre as a social focus for so many activities.”

Next week

Don’t miss your Sunday Post next week as Oor Wullie gets involved in the Big Braw Community.

In a series of special strips, Wullie ponders the nature of loneliness – and wonders what he can do to help.

Our campaign to halve chronic loneliness by 2030 has captured the imagination of many and has already attracted support from politicians of all shades.

Many charitable organisations have also signed up – but getting Wullie involved could be our biggest coup yet!