As their only meeting point to socialise in the neighborhood, a group of about 350 retired Italians decided to take over a community leisure centre for the elderly in northern Rome after the municipality declared it unusable in May.
The group regularly gathered at Rome's 15th district centre while waiting for a new leisure centre to open its doors. However, the construction of the latter — started in 2011 — is still incomplete.
The president of the senior community Giuseppe Betulia told Euronews that while there are other leisure centres in the area, the one they occupied in Via Cassia is the most accessible for members of an advanced age.
“90-year-old members are not in the condition to take public transportation very far,” said Betulia.
The group had previously tried to avoid the building’s closure after the public administration — led by the Five Star Movement — declared it unfit for use. They raised funds to renovate the structure and installed a new electrical and air conditioning system but municipal authorities still closed it down after judging the renovations "illegal".
On Monday, around 70 elderly people forced their entry into the building by breaking the lock.
Betulia denied the group was occupying the building: "We simply broke the lock of shame. Locks are meant to enslave people, they offend their dignity."
The group's president said they were not organising any violent acts in the next couple of days. "We're simply going to stay here and carry on with our lives, play cards, and eat ice cream."
"We think the president of the 15th district, Stefano Simonelli, is a good man and knows in his heart that 350 elderly people cannot be abandoned," adding that the municipality needs to make the necessary improvements so the place can function until the new centre is finished.
Marcello Ribera, an opposition MP, who's against the closing of the centre told Euronews that the Five Star Movement has done little to complete the new leisure centre.
"We ask the administration to dialogue with the old people but not to evict them. The problem is this situation is the absence of politics," he said.
Last month, the municipal council called on Simonelli and the social and public works councillors to "adopt all the procedures necessary to reopen the Tomba di Nerona centre."
Simonelli did not reply to Euronews' request for comment.