Opening Doors offers frees employment advice, access to IT facilities and job search support. Trade union, Unison, is backing a campaign to get Lewisham Mayor Sir Steve Bullock to change his mind. A petition has been launched to get local support behind the organisation.
Campaigners fear that the closure of the project could affect the poorest and most vulnerable people in the borough. According to a recent survey by the TUC, Lewisham, along with Hackney, is the hardest borough in which to find a job in the UK.
If the council’s plans go ahead, the service will be closed in February 2011. The organisation, located on Lewisham High Street, has already stopped accepting new referrals and clients.
Beresford Peart, a local resident, came to Opening Doors for help after he lost his job. He has been involved in the campaign to save it. He said: “When I heard that the place was closing, I thought no way, I knew I needed to get involved and use my energy to help in some way.”
Jerry Hall, a retired civil servant from Forest Hill has also benefitted from the service. He said: “There’s a really supportive ethos here. The free internet access is great, you could go to an internet cafe but you have to pay a pound per go, and it does add up after a while.”
Many young people fear that its closure, along with the recent closure of Deptford Jobcentre, will make it harder for young people to get into employment.
For Steve Louis, a 20-year-old local musician, Opening Doors has provided CV help and IT workshops to boost his prospects.
“For people of my age, its been invaluable. Connexions is good but its tailored more for young people who want to get careers advice. Opening Doors is more about trying to get people into work. It gives you skills you might not get elsewhere, makes you more presentable and provides all its services for free. I reckon it will have a big effect in the long run if it goes.”
Sadie King, Equality Officer at Unison Lewisham said that the closure of such a vital service would have a severe impact on the poorest and those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
“The council itself acknowledges that the cuts are going to have a disproportionate impact on black and ethnic minority service users, because this service supports these people. They have been here for a long time and know the community’s needs really well.”
Staff have proposed finding a social enterprise organisation to possibly take over the running the organisation.
However King said: “none of the proposals put through by staff have been considered seriously by the council.”