Funding uncertainty for mobility support service

Shopmobility funding . Pictured at Arber House Eldon Street  Mark Arber  and Darren Gilbert (seated).
Shopmobility funding . Pictured at Arber House Eldon Street Mark Arber and Darren Gilbert (seated).
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A SERVICE which lends mobility equipment such as scooters and wheelchairs to help thousands of disabled people in Sheffield each year fears for its future with its council funding in doubt after June.

Some 1,600 people have signed a petition calling for support to continue for Shopmobility, based on Eldon Street in the city centre, and at Crystal Peaks.

The service was established in the late 1990s by the late city councillor Anthony Arber, a wheelchair user, who raised funding to set up the service during his year as Lord Mayor in 1997/8.

It is currently run by his son Mark, who is project manager.

Mr Arber said: “When I first took over in December 2003, the service was in receipt of £26,500 each year and was available to around 500 registered service users from two small sites in the city centre. “Since this time, I have worked tirelessly to improve the service. We now have over 6,500 registered service users, and we delivered over 10,000 equipment loans during the last year.”

But Mr Arber said that over the last eight years, funding has been ‘cut quite drastically’ to the equivalent of around £17,000 a year.

“It is almost impossible to deliver this service at that much of a reduction,” he said.

The organisation’s latest award from the council is £4,256, to cover the next three months to June - and nothing has been guaranteed for the rest of the year. A decision will not be made until May about whether to continue funding the service, Mr Arber has been told.

A letter supporting Shopmobility’s work from Sheffield’s Access Liaison Group, which represents disabled people, has been sent to all current city councillors, Sheffield Council chief executive John Mothersole and officials making a plea for further support.

One of the volunteers, Darren Gilbert, aged 34, of Wincobank, who has disabilities including osteoarthritis and epilepsy, said: “If we have no more council funding, our future is at risk and loss of the service would take away many people’s independence.”

■ Shopmobility has been collecting signatures at its branches and also online at www.gopetition.com/petitions/urgent-support.html and www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2F.