CAMPAIGNERS say they will fight to the bitter end to save Weymouth’s women’s refuge from closure.
And they are hoping more than 1,000 people will turn out at a mass protest at County hall in Dorchester tomorrow when councillors meet to debate the issue.
The campaign to save the refuge from closure is gaining support across the political spectrum since it was revealed it would be axed.
Around 5,000 people have signed the petition which is being distributed throughout Dorset. Organisers hope to get a total of 10,000 signatures.
The petition was launched after the Dorset Supporting People Commissioning Group announced it would stop funding the women’s refuge and two youth hostels in the town in January, leaving them to close and their users to be relocated.
The Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for South Dorset, Ros Kayes, has joined forces with South Dorset MP Jim Knight to fight the closure.
They are calling for Weymouth and Portland councillors and residents to make their voices heard.
Mrs Kayes hopes campaigners will be able to present the petition to Dorset County Council’s cabinet on September 2 before it is asked to endorse the commissioning group’s decision to stop funding the Weymouth facilities.
She said: “This is a Dorset-wide issue and I think this council would like to palm it off as a Weymouth-only issue in the hopes that no-one will kick up a fuss about it.
“But people seem to be really eager to take this on board.
“Every time we go out collecting signatures in Weymouth there are people literally queuing up to sign it.”
Criticisms were also been made of the way in which the commissioning group has consulted on and made its decision to close the refuge and youth hostels, with several Weymouth councillors and Ros Kayes saying it should have been more open to public scrutiny and input.
South Dorset MP Jim Knight has also organised an online campaign against the planned closure. In just 24 hours, dozens of people signed up to the email, Facebook and Twitter campaign.
Mr Knight is also urging people to protest outside County Hall at 9am tomorrow ahead of the meeting in which county councillors will decide the future of the refuge.
Mr Knight said: “I urge people to support our campaign, either by signing the petition or joining my online campaign, to stop the county council’s reckless decision to close the refuge.”
And Richard Drax, the prospective parliamentary candidate for South Dorset, also voiced his concerns over the proposed closure.
He said: “I appreciate the council’s predicament, trying to make less money stretch further and over a diverse and mainly rural area, but I hope the cabinet thinks very carefully about this proposal when it meets on Wednesday.
“I would ask the county council rather than closing the Weymouth refuge to improve it.”
Dorset County Council’s director for adult and community services, Steve Pitt, said: “The women’s refuge in Weymouth is set to be decommissioned as part of a move towards a new county-wide outreach service for all victims of domestic violence.
“While this would help many more people remain in their own homes, two refuges would be retained in West and North Dorset for people who need them.
“The Weymouth refuge is a very small one, with only six units of accommodation, and the building is not fully accessible.
“Again, we are working closely with current residents to ensure they will be moved on into appropriate accommodation if that is still relevant at the time of closure.”