Gym for elderly ‘fit memorial’ to generous George

COUNCILLORS will hear today that a healthy living centre for the elderly of Galashiels, complete with a spa and gym, will be a fitting memorial to a philanthropist who left more than £400,000 in his will.

Elected members will be asked to endorse discussions about the ambitious project with the executors of the will of George Knox, the former town clerk, who died in May aged 93.

His will specifies the money should be used by Scottish Borders Council (SBC) “to benefit the elderly of the town”.

Today’s council meeting will consider a report on plans drawn up by the head of social care and health, Elaine Torrance, since the bequest, £419,942, was confirmed in September.

The favoured project will involve the renovation of a wing of the SBC-run Waverley residential care home in Elm Row. The recent Transforming Older People’s Services review recommended major changes at the home which does not meet modern Care Commission standards. The review recommended that Waverley should, instead, cater for intermediate care and short breaks.

“These changes mean a wing of the care home will not be required,” said Mrs Torrance. “It is proposed this is developed into a resource centre that all older people in Galashiels can use.”

She said the wing could easily be converted into a healthy living centre, comprising a small thermal spa, a gymnasium with changing facilities and a cafe area, as well as an arts and crafts room for a range of activities. The area outside could be developed with a greenhouse to offer opportunities for gardening enthusiasts.

Commending the venture, Mrs Torrance said that, with the number of people aged 65 and over set to rise by 40 per cent in the region by 2020, it was important they remained active, physically and mentally.

“It is not intended this centre will duplicate existing facilities such as the local swimming pool, but will offer an additional resource which provides older people in the Galashiels area with a facility to improve their health and fitness with gentle exercise. It will also offer them opportunities to socialise and mix with other people with similar interests.”

Initial costings put total construction outlay, including professional fees, at £188,000.

“Indicative revenue [running] costs of between £32,000 and £35,000 a year have been estimated for each of the next 10 years, assuming the service will be managed by a voluntary organisation using an overall manager and volunteers,” said Mrs Torrance.

“This is inclusive of all costs, including insurance cover.

“By making a nominal charge for users of the centre and its classes, a small income stream will be generated which will support sustainability. No projected resource requirment for any SBC revenue budget is anticipated.”

Mrs Torrance conceded there was a risk the proposal would be seen as using the bequest to address council efficiencies, but she added: “This proposal is clearly adding value to the range of services provided to older people in Galashiels and could not be supported by current council budgets.”

Elected members will be asked not only to endorse discussions with Mr Knox’s executors, but also to agree a three-month consultation period with a range of stakeholders, after which a report will come back to SBC’s executive.

George Knox, who was awarded an MBE for his services to local government, began his career with the former Melrose Town Council before returning to his home town, serving first as deputy town clerk, and then as town clerk from 1969 until regionalisation in 1975.

He then became the first director of administration for Ettrick and Lauderdale District Council, continuing in that role until his retirement in which he continued his public service in the voluntary sector.

Mr Knox had a passion for local government and wrote a comprehensive and learned chapter on the subject in the book Galashiels: A Modern History.

His bequest has already been described by council leader David Parker as “an extraordinary act of generosity”.