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Why Rochester Row?

November 01 2010
We look at the detail behind the closure of a day centre


In the September issue (Goodbye, Rochester Row), we reported the sad closure of an iconic London day centre, Rochester Row. Yet, following the publication of the report, commissioned by the Salvation Army, on Rochester Row's future, it is clear that the situation is more complicated than the original statement suggested.

The Salvation Army's director of homeless services at the time, Maff Potts, had told The Pavement that closure was partly to avoid "duplicating what is being delivered by other homeless services providers".

However, the report, subsequently passed to us by the Salvation Army, states that "a large number of rough sleepers who come to Rochester Row to access primary services are unable to use The Passage because they do not meet the eligibility criteria". This was largely because Rochester Row was providing a service for the large number of Eastern Europeans who were unable to access the Passage.

The report recommended keeping the day centre open, but proposed structural changes and investment in its services: "The Salvation Army should continue to offer a service for rough sleepers at Rochester Row, but one that focuses exclusively on therapeutic interventions to help people tackle their problems and pre-employment work to get people off the streets and into work."

The Pavement asked the Salvation Army to clarify why they had been unable to sustain Rochester Row and why they had closed the centre when it was still accessed by so many.

Major Julian Watchorn, assistant director of homelessness services at The Salvation Army, said: "There is never a good time to close a service and the decision to close the Rochester Row day centre was not made lightly. Funding is always a concern, particularly in the present financial environment.

"The independent review stated that the day centre required investment in additional resources and a change of programme to do more to help people who are homeless find a route off the streets. We were already taking all financial responsibility for the centre, running at a £200,000 deficit each year. The day centre was one of numerous services within the borough of Westminster for this client group requiring funding in order to be operational.

"With difficulties in securing additional funding, we had to address the review's finding that existing services offered at Rochester Row were not fully meeting the complex needs of clients and were available at other open-access day centres."

Some readers had speculated that the closure was due to pressure from Westminster Council, who were reluctant to endorse a centre that appeared to be encouraging Eastern European nationals to remain in the area, and in the UK. Indeed, the report noted that "although the Rough Sleeping Unit at City Hall [Westminster City Council] are unclear about what services the centre offers or who uses them, the Unit's position is that the centre should cease providing services to rough sleepers altogether."

Responding to this, Major Watchorn said: "The Salvation Army seeks to work with local authorities to address the needs that are presenting in communities. We seek where possible to work in partnership and were prepared, on this occasion, to see our service as part of a bigger picture within the borough. We are mindful that there are individuals for whom Rochester Row was their preferred support option, however the review and local authority have noted there are alternatives available and that our day centre was duplicating services already provided nearby."

The Salvation Army also stated that no decision has yet been taken on the future of the building.

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