‘THE COUNCIL is deserting us’ — that’s the fear of Bracknell’s Shopmobility boss as the charity fights to save the town centre shop from closing.

From April 2020, Shopmobility will no longer receive an annual grant of almost £30,000 from Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) after gradual cuts to funding for voluntary organisations in the last four years.

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The Princess Square store provides mobility scooters to elderly and disabled people to help them get around the town centre and features a charity shop and a small cafe at the back of the site.

But with running costs coming to around £55,000 every year, Shopmobility managers believe they may have to close their Princess Square store in the next 18 months if more funding is not found.

Local Berkshire:

Bob Draper, Bracknell Shopmobility’s chair, said: “Boris Johnson said austerity is over. That’s absolute rubbish.

“The service they [Bracknell Forest Council] wanted in 2004 is still required.

“Now they are just deserting us.”

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Bob said the shop raises around £30,000 each year from shop sales and other fundraisers like bingo nights and dinner events.

To be self-sufficient, volunteer Becky said, this would mean raising membership fees to up to £90 a year — something managers do not want to do as many members’ only income is from benefits or pensions.

Local Berkshire:

When BFC made the decision to cut the funding, it was hoped greater footfall from The Lexicon would boost membership and scooter-hires and increase revenue for the charity.

Despite The Lexicon welcoming 16 million visitors in its first year of opening, Bob told the News Shopmobility has not seen an increase in traffic.

He added: “We can’t put up membership fees to cover a £30,000 grant, it’s impossible.”

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“Our membership has gone down from 300 to barely 100, despite our efforts to get that increased.

“One of the reasons for that is Princess Square doesn’t get the footfall it used to get.”

Bob wrote a letter to BFC bosses in September 2018 pleading with the authority for more financial support.

Local Berkshire:

One way the council has tried to support voluntary organisations with additional funding going forward is through the creation of the Bracknell Forest Lottery.

From every £1 spent, 60 pence goes towards good causes, with players able to choose which charity 50 pence of their entry goes to.

Bob said managers have tried to encourage players to select Shopmobility when entering the lottery, but he believes only 30 people have done so so far.

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Cllr John Harrison, Executive Member for Culture, Delivery and Public Protection said: “We reviewed our voluntary sector grants in 2016/17, and Shopmobility was made aware that their grant would be gradually reduced over a three-year period, to allow them time to become financially independent by 2020/21.

“We worked with Shopmobility, fully consulting with them on this change, and support was offered to develop their business plan to help generate income.

“We are committed to continuing to support Shopmobility’s trustees to enable the service to develop a sustainable future.”