BY Peter Diamond | August 9 2019 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

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Call for rethink as Pilgrimage Centre at national shrine set to close with 11 job losses

Manager says staff feel 'used and abused' at decision taken with 'deep regret'

The Pilgrimage Centre at Scotland’s national shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes is to close at the end of next month following a shortfall of cash and visitors, leaving 11 staff redundant.

Motherwell Diocese broke the news to staff at Carfin Pilgrimage Centre on Monday, August 5, saying the decision was ‘purely financial’ and taken with ‘deep regret.’

The announcement sparked anger online, with more than 3,000 people signing a petition against the closure. Staff at the centre, who have been preparing for the arrival of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux to the Grotto at the end of this month, said they were ‘absolutely gutted’ and felt ‘used and abused.’

 

Closure

The centre is set to close on Monday September 30. The grotto and next door parish will remain open.

Announcing the decision, Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell said: “This decision has been taken with deep regret, but I feel it is one which has had to be made, as the number of visitors and consequent income have not been sufficient to meet the operational costs of the centre.

“It has had to rely on financial subsidies from the diocese, which can no longer sustain such expenditure or meet the significant additional costs of complying with new statutory food and hygiene and health and safety standards.”

Bishop Toal added: “I would like to express my grateful thanks to the management and staff at the Pilgrimage Centre for their excellent work, service and commitment to the centre over the past 23 years.”

The centre, which has a shop and a cafe, is open seven days a week and employs 11 members of staff, the youngest aged 18 and the oldest aged 71.

According to staff at the centre, no employee earns more than £12 per hour and most people have worked there for more than a decade.

 

Heartbreaking

Margaret McGuigan, manager of the Pilgrimage Centre, said: “The decision is heartbreaking and all the staff are gutted—it’s been a great place to work.

“It’s not as if there is an excessive wage bill here and a huge turnover of staff. It’s the building that is the problem: most of the year the gas and electric bills are over £1,000 per month.”

Carfin Grotto hosts national pilgrimages each year, and Ms McGuigan said she would have liked to have seen the centre rescued by the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, with a ‘collection once per year for upkeep of the Grotto, the national shrine of Scotland.’

The centre was opened in July 1996 and has provided a range of services to pilgrims visiting the Grotto.

 

Staff upset

Ms McGuigan, who has been the manager for 18 years and worked at the centre since it opened 23 years ago, added that staff members feel ‘used and abused.’

“The visit of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux is an unprecedented event and carrying the burden of redundancy throughout that period is a big burden to carry,” she said.

“We feel used and abused to an extent. If the visit of the relics was not happening I feel as though they would probably shut us down at the end of August.

“The national day of pilgrimage to Carfin is our biggest day of the year and when the relics visit we will have three days like that.”

“It is a massive job as we have to make sure there is extra food, drink and products on offer but we know come September 2 after the relics move on we will be closed down. We will have to go through all that pressure and then we’ll be closed. It just seems so unfair.”

 

Meeting place

Staff said they accept there is no ‘magic money pot’ but that the centre has much to offer.

“We have falling congregations and a lack of knowledge of the Faith but where are people going to go to learn about their Faith?

“We have it all here, it is visible and there are trained and knowledgeable staff members who provide a lot of help to people struggling to pick up the right resource, book or holy memorabilia,” Ms McGuigan said.

“We are not just a shop and a cafe: we have been here for the marginalised people of society. It gives people a purpose to get out and a meeting place to socialise.”

 

Financial problems

Deacon Jim Aitken, chancellor for Motherwell Diocese, said the centre ‘is no longer financially viable.’

“The Pilgrimage Centre has always been financed by the parish and through pilgrims who visited but in recent years it has had to be heavily subsided,” he said.

“Footfall is falling both in the cafe and at the national shrine, and we would love to be in a position to keep the centre open but it just isn’t financially viable.

“We have kept it going for as long as we can through grants, and days like the national day of pilgrimage to Carfin are of great importance, but a business cannot survive on one day like that per year.

“The visits of schools throughout the years have been most welcome but the money they generate is still relatively low.

“The staff have been terrific and provided a wonderful service for many years but the footfall just isn’t there anymore.”

 

Reaction

The closure of the centre will not affect the Carfin Grotto or the adjacent parish of St Francis Xavier.

A post on Motherwell Dioceses Facebook page announcing the closure has garnered more than 1,000 comments from people angry at the decision and an online petition against the closure has amassed hundreds of signatures.

One person wrote: “Absolutely disgraceful and a very wrong decision.” Another said: “Unbelievable. This was a thriving and very important environment when visiting the Grotto.”

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