Will Teries get choice of Gala’s healthy option?

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COULD the elderly of Galashiels end up sharing a jacuzzi at a new healthy living centre in their town with old folk from Selkirk and even Hawick?

Parochial sensibilities and joking apart, that is one of the serious scenarios on which public views will be sought next month. It follows the decision by Scottish Borders Council at its last meeting of 2010 to agree in principle that a special facility for senior citizens should be created using a £420,000 bequest from former Galashiels town clerk George Knox who died in May aged 93.

Councillors supported a report recommending that around half his legacy should be used to renovate and equip a wing of the SBC-run Waverley residential care home in Elm Row. The balance could, it was suggested, support running costs until the centre becomes self-supporting and sustainable. Provisional plans are to provide a thermal spa, a gym with changing facilities, an arts and crafts room to cater for a range of activities and a cafe.

“These will add value to the service we are able to offer elderly people in Galashiels and fits in well with our commitment to promote the benefits of healthy ageing,” said social work director Andrew Lowe. “As such it would be a lasting tribute to this most generous of benefactors.”

Councillors heard, as reported last week, that Waverley no longer met Care Commission standards and would, henceforth, provide intermediate care and short-term breaks, thus freeing up the wing for conversion.

The consultation will last three months and will seek feedback, not only from key stakeholders, but from the wider public of Galashiels. During this period, the council will draw up a detailed business plan and seek interest from external organisations which could run the centre.

But the meeting highlighted the potentially thorny issue of user eligibilty.

Mr Lowe said he hoped the facility would be “inclusive and imaginative”, but Galashiels councillor Fiona Lackenby pointed out the bequest was specifically to benefit the elderly people of Galashiels.

She noted that the Galashiels Local Relief Fund, set up in 1946 and still operating through gifts and bequests to assist the deserving poor on the town, had strict criteria: that beneficiaries should be in receipt of the state pension and have been resident in the town or its immediate surrounding district for a minimum of 10 years. Although the fund was not run by a council committee, SBC’s Galashiels ward representatives were ex-officio members.

Mrs Lackenby’s fellow ward councillor John Mitchell felt that, as the money had been left to the council or any successor authority, it would be difficult to limit usage. “We surely cannot stop people coming in from other places,” he added.

A third Galashiels member Sandy Aitchison felt excluding the elderly from other towns like Selkirk and Hawick could, equality issues apart, adversely impact on the viability of the project given that the report recommended that a charge be levied on users to make it sustainable.

After the meeting, SBC’s head of social care and health Elaine Torrance said she expected the consultation to begin in January with firm recommendations coming back to the council in April.

“There clearly is a legal issue over the bequest specifying benefit for the elderly of Galashiels and how much discretion the council can exercise,” said Mrs Torrance. “We hope to get an idea of what the general public feels during the consultation which will include a public meeting in the town. We also plan to put an online response form on our website, but we will ensure that Southern readers are kept fully informed.”