Fears as city's alcohol wet room faces axe

Published date: 20 September 2012 |
Published by: Natalie Barnett and Jim Green
Read more articles by Natalie Barnett and Jim Green

The 'wet room' facility, run by Chester Aid to the Homeless, could be axed after losing a £600,000 council contract 

A CITY centre ‘wet room’ faces the axe, sparking fears drinkers will be left with no option but to congregate on Chester’s streets.

Charity Chester Aid to the Homeless (CATH) fears closing the facility and connected service as winter approaches means lives could even be at risk.

CATH currently provides alcohol dependents with a room where they can drink in safety at the Harold Tomlins Centre in Grosvenor Street.

But the charity has lost its contract with Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) despite being widely praised for its work over the past 40 years.

Foundation Enterprises North West, a consortium involving Chester and District Housing Trust and Forum Housing Association, has been awarded the contract and will move homeless services to Richmond Court in Boughton.

However, there are no plans to provide a ‘wet room’ and the council looks likely to ditch the facility altogether.

CATH chief executive Robert Bisset said the charity had no choice but to shut the ‘wet room’ after losing the £600,000 contract.

“The fact is we will not have the adequate funding to enable us to continue the running of the wet centre,” he said.

“One of the key purposes of the Harold Tomlins Centre when it opened was to deal with street drinkers in Chester. It seems there will be no equal provision for this.

“In closing key day services in mid-winter, the dangers are that people could die on the streets.”

Mr Bisset said the ‘wet room’ was open to homeless and non-homeless drinkers and was used by about 500 people annually.

Users take their own alcohol and hand it in so they amount they drink can be monitored. They are also encouraged so seek rehabilitation support.

CATH will cease providing day services - including the ‘wet room’ – from November 25 and slash staff numbers from 38 to just eight. Other services to be lost include an emergency night-shelter and medical facilities.

Mr Bisset pledged CATH would continue to work to tackle homelessness and support those in need through training and education.

He said: “Although services will be reduced, we will still put our efforts in to working with the new service providers and endeavour to meet needs as they present. We hope to be able to do this by enlisting the support of as many volunteers as possible. We are extremely fortunate to have a huge level of community support and engagement so we will be aiming to grow our volunteer base accordingly.

“Chester is a small city with a big social conscience and a big heart.”

Boughton and Hoole residents reacted angrily when details of the Richmond Court scheme first emerged and set up a campaign group to fight the plans.

They argue homeless services should be based in the city centre and not in the former care home, which is surrounded by houses.

Campaigner and Hoole resident Karen Stevenson asked executive councillors to confirm what plans were in place for ‘wet room’ provision.

The council response stated: “Discussions are ongoing with CATH. Their management and board are considering what services the organisation can offer that will complement the new model.

“The council is supporting this process through a member working group, officer meetings, and meetings with the new providers. CATH have indicated that they may decide to cease operating the day centre as ‘wet’ provision.

“That being the case, the council will need to decide whether providing day centre facilities for people who need to drink alcohol excessively is something that is in the public interest.”

Bad for business

COMMUNITY leaders in Wrexham called for the town to create its own ‘wet room’ earlier this year.

Fed-up shopkeepers said daytime drinkers were bad for business and a centre where they could drink away from the public gaze would be safer for everybody.

Brynyffynnon councillor Phil Wynn called on Wrexham Council and North Wales Police to take heed from Chester.

He said: “When I come into the town there is nothing more offensive than seeing people hanging around on street corners drinking from lager cans.

“We should take a leaf of Chester’s book where they have a very successful wet room.”

But a spokesman for Wrexham’s Council’s community safety partnership, said: “We currently have no plans for this type of facility in the town centre, but we will be more than happy to speak with Cllr Wynn to discuss the matter.”

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