SHOPMOBILITY in Stratford is under new management after it was revealed council coffers could no longer support it.
The vital service, which hires out scooters and wheelchairs to some 1,700 shoppers and visitors with mobility issues from Bridgefoot car park, has been run by Stratford District Council for 25 years.
But SDC revealed recently it could no longer financially support the service and was looking to hand it over to a third party provider. This was despite opposition from charitable organisation The Friends of Shopmobility, set up to raise funds for new equipment, who were worried about it being taken over by a new provider amid inclusivity concerns.
Councillors decided at a meeting of the Cabinet on Monday (September 4) that Shopmobility will be transferred to Active Mobility for an initial period of three years and would operate from two sites in the town – the existing Shopmobility office at Bridgeway car park and the existing Active Mobility office in Union Road.
The service will operate longer operating hours, while expanding with deliveries to hotels and homes.
The two members of staff who make up the Shopmobility team will be made redundant.
In 2021 and 2022 the Friends of Shopmobility made a request for SDC to invest more funding into the service and make a longer term commitment to supporting it, as opposed to the 12 month funding situation, but SDC said its budget would not allow this.
Active Mobility, which services the shopmobility equipment, expressed an interest in taking over the service for an initial period of three years.
A spokesperson for The Friends raised concerns about the council moving away from independently supporting the service.
They said: “It would definitely become a business where profit, not service, is the driver. We believe this could be termed as a quick fix rather than a long-term plan and detrimental to a lot of users.
“Some of the proposals to make changes to this service open it up to be managed differently with goals that go against the inclusivity that SDC like to promote.”
Disability campaigner Elizabeth Dixon was in favour of Active Mobility taking over Shopmobility as she believes the service needs investment.
She continued: “I know that Shopmobility could be much more than what is offered at present, but finances got in the way. To get this far SDC has spent considerable time to ensure the right decision is made and a partnership with Active Mobility will do this.”
SDC leader Coun Susan Juned added: “I would also like to thank The Friends of Shopmobility who have raised considerable sums of money for equipment to be used around the district and we are grateful for all the hard work.
“Transferring the service to a local company who is already familiar with the operation, as they currently service all the equipment and look to offer a more wide-ranging service for the benefit of all users, makes perfect sense.”