Disabled charity claims shopping centre refuses to help keep it open even as it spends £11m on refit

Disabled charity claims shopping centre refuses to help keep it open even as it spends £11m on refit
Shopmobility in Tunbridge Wells to close

And it says RVP, which is spending £11m on a facelift, has refused to help because it does not attract enough shoppers to the centre. RVP deny they were approached for help.

Shopmobility in Tunbridge Wells provides wheelchairs and mobility scooters for up to 50 disabled visitors a week to the shopping centre. Those using the service often have family and friends joining them on shopping trips.

The charity says they provide a ‘vital service’ for the disabled that enables them to go shopping in RVP, charging around £5 for use of the equipment for up to three hours.

Following central Government grant funding cuts to local authorities, Shopmobilty has had its support cut by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to the tune of £9,000, from £17,000 to just £8,000.

The charity, which has been providing the mobility service for more than 20 years, does not pay rent to RVP – it operates from a corridor beside fashion retailer Next – but needs more than £20,000 a year to pay wages and bills.

It now faces closure at the end of March because of a shortfall of around £15,000.

Chris Jeffery, Trustee of Shopmobility, says that in a meeting with the other trustees and the shopping centre manager, Nicky Blanchard, he asked RVP for financial help, but was denied.

He told the Times: “She [the manager] told me that we were not getting the figures they wanted to warrant giving us any help and said we needed to bring more people in. She also said minimum wage had gone up so that wages were tight and they couldn’t afford it.”

British Land, which owns RVP, has just paid £11million on a new floor and new signage.

Mr Jeffery added that if the Shopmobility closed, disabled people will no longer have a means to shop at RVP.  “People won’t be able to go shopping in Royal Victoria Place or come into Tunbridge Wells if we close – people come from all over and rely on us because we are the only service like this in the area.

“If they lose us, I think they will live to regret it because they will lose all these disabled customers and a lot of goodwill.”

A spokesperson for RVP denied they had received a request for financial help from the charity, and said they do not provide funding, but added: “We have supported Shopmobility for many years, offering free space from which to operate and giving them assistance with fundraising and sponsorship. That support remains unchanged.”

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