Protests against cuts to Wayland Hall Luncheon Club, in Watton

Dozens of elderly people, volunteers and supporters of a long-running luncheon club which is under threat of closure took to the streets today to rally support for its survival.

The Wayland Hall Luncheon Club charity, which has been based at Wayland Hall, Middle Street, in Watton, since 1980 supports the 'vulnerable and isolated' but will lose its Norfolk County Council funding on September 30.

Each year the charity has received just over �22,000 a year which provides a hot dinner for up to 16 people per day Monday to Friday.

The funds also provide a meals-on-wheels service, which started in 1971, to up to 24 people Monday to Friday and pays for three full-time staff at the hall - a co-ordinator, cook and assistant cook.

A crowd of 50 people protested outside Wayland Hall holding posters saying 'Watton Needs You!' ahead of a crucial public meeting next Thursday, organised by the charity.

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Club co-ordinator Laura Aheja said: 'For nine out of 10 of our members we are the only contact they have. It is a lifeline to a lot of people. To most people this is the only social outlet that they have.'

She added that there are hopes people and businesses in Watton will come forward to support the charity in a voluntary or financial capacity so the club can continue serving dinners to its members.

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But Mrs Aheja, who said she was 'angry' about the cuts, believed the club will fold if it is changed from a charity to a business.

The county council is pulling out of providing meals itself next month after cutting its annual �1.2m a year subsidy for the meals.

People who get their meals from the service will need to use their personal budgets to buy dinners from a list of selected companies.

The council's decision to switch to commissioning private companies to provide the meals was made during the Big Conversation, which identified �155m of savings in 2010.

Currently two courses, served at Wayland Hall or through the meals-on-wheels service, cost �3.24 per day and are paid on a daily, weekly or monthly basis to the luncheon club.

But after the financial cuts the elderly members will be forced to pay �8 per day for a non-subsidised service.

Olwen Wild, 68, of Watton, said: 'A lot of people think the club cannot be saved. It is a shame.'

Volunteer Paul Weatherill, 57, of Watton, added: 'It is a vital service. A lot of these people (members) are isolated and it is something we cannot afford to lose.

'The problem stems from central government and the politicians should realise that these cuts are hitting the vulnerable services. They should think again about their cutbacks and what they are doing to communities like Watton.'

He said that the club was the 'heart and soul' of the town.

Mrs Aheja said the charity was fully supported by Watton Town Council, which hires the hall out for free to the club.

Days out and entertainment sessions, including bingo, are also put on by the charity paid for by fundraising events.

A county council spokesman said: 'In the light of the need to deliver more personal and individual packages of care, and in order to meet the challenges posed by reductions in public sector spending, Norfolk County Council is having to use its limited budget to buy services which offer value for money and provide what clients want to use and buy.

'We have already begun discussions with Wayland Hall Luncheon Club about how the service it provides might best continue in the future, given that demand for its services is likely to reduce as people are given more choice through the introduction of personal budgets and the ending of block contract funding.

'We are talking to luncheon club organisers about the best ways of making sure that anyone who is entitled to an assessment of their eligibility for personal budgets will receive one.'

They added that the council was working with the town council and the luncheon club and it is hoped that the new arrangements will be in place by the end of September.

The meeting will take place at the Watton Youth and Community Centre, in Harvey Street, from 7pm.

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