“WE have seen people’s lives transform since that centre closed and we moved across here”.

Simon Prestney is referring to the controversial closure by Colchester Council of the Lion Walk activity centre last November.

Instead the council, in agreement with Age Concern Colchester, felt the town’s older population would better served by one venue offering a wider range of facilities – and would save it money. And that’s where Simon comes into the equation.

He’s the chief executive of Age Concern Colchester, a charity, based on North Hill and from where the new, merged service now operates.

The Lion Walk activity centre has been threatened with closure several times since 2010.

“At least with this option, there was a destination,” he said.

“They had someone running the centre and serving food etc. What they didn’t have is what we have got here – a befriending co-ordinator and an advice service to mop up clients’ issues around housing, health, finance, mobility and care choices, plus all our clubs and activities.”

There were 180 people who belonged to the Lion Walk centre when it shut - a service which Simon says, was “haemorrhaging” nearly £80,000 a year.


A month later Age Concern Colchester recorded 467 visitors to its clubs.

If this continues, there could be as many as 10,000 visitors by November, a figure which does factor in multiple uses of the centre.

Age Concern Colchester had already forged links with the council after it received welfare grant money from it.

Simon said: “The team looked at what we were doing and said ‘Have you seen Lion Walk’? We both had similar offers.

“In fairness to them, the numbers had dwindled a lot. They had done quite a bit to try to attract people but numbers continued to dwindle.

“They approached us and said would we consider merging services.

“They didn’t just look at us, they looked at other options. The council was in a difficult situation.”

Simon’s role at Age Concern Colchester was made permanent as of January 1. Before then, he’d been asked by trustees to run the charity temporarily, since October 2017. He knows his clients’ needs.

“Often people in the war years think they have got to battle through and they need to choose between heating and eating but we don’t need to do that.

“We can come through and the team will provide you with the support that you need,” he said.

Changes under Simon’s tenure have seen the charity grow extensively and that includes to the Grade II listed building it’s now housed in.

But Simon said when he arrived, the charity “was kind of on its knees”, and had been working out of a “dilapidated” building in George Street.

It then moved into rooms belonging to Community 360 in High Street.

He explained: “When I came in as a contractor, the goal was to find a new property and to represent ourselves to the market in terms of what we do.

“There was a lot of work going on not recognised. The team was doing a great job but it wasn’t known – they didn’t have a voice.

“We have increased the team, we have increased everything. There were 26 volunteers, now we have 80.

“In terms of staff, we had two full-timers and two part-timers when I joined. Now we have four full-time and three part-time.

“We found this property in January 2018 and moved in April.”

Most of the charity’s expenditure - £169,000 this year – is on staff and the North Hill building which it’s allowed to rent for a reduced cost.

Feedback from a pop-up shop also established clients wanted somewhere they could access at ground level but also where things were done with them, not just helping them.

The upstairs of the building, previously home to an Army recruitment centre, is dedicated to the charity’s offices while the downstairs kitchen was changed to improve facilities.

The disabled toilet was moved to the front of the building and accessibility was enhanced so disabled visitors could park and access the centre from the back.

There’s also a dedicated downstairs room for some of the many activities on offer.

Other activities on offer include a technology club, knit and natter club, yoga, chiropody services and bereavement support.

Today 56 people are befriended by Age Concern Colchester’s 50 befrienders - double the previous figure.

In addition £700,000 benefit entitlements have been arranged for clients.

Upon the closure of Lion Walk, Colchester Council awarded £45,000 to the charity. and Simon was able to secure grants for improvements to the building, particularly from Colchester Catalyst charity which Simon credited with being a huge supporter.

He added: “Age Concern is a trusted brand. I think the way the team operates is we deal with people with great compassion and that’s really important when you are meeting someone who has been in difficult circumstances.

“The world is moving in the charity world and Age Concern didn’t for a while so we were able to replace it with a positive thing going on. Now we have started doing that things have started to improve.”