The county council has been accused of ‘turning its back’ on a centre for people with learning disabilities.
West Sussex County Council said fewer people are making use of the Burnside Day Centre in Burgess Hill – which could be facing closure.
Service users, their families, staff and a councillor joined campaigners at meeting on Tuesday, held as part of the council’s public consultation over its future.
A spokesman for Don’t Cut Us Out, which represents vulnerable people across West Sussex said the meeting, was ‘mired in controversy from the beginning when the cabinet member for health and social care, Peter Catchpole, failed to attend’.
The move was condemned by former social worker and chairman of the campaign group, Margaret Guest.
“It really is shameful,” she said.
“Councillors have assured service users that they will be at the heart of this decision, so it is utterly disrespectful to these families that their views will not be heard by Mr Catchpole tonight.”
Three options have been proposed for Burnside: to do nothing, improve the building and services, or find alternative services for customers and close the building.
Speaking at the launch of the consultation in October, Cllr Catchpole said the options are about ‘improving the service’ so people can be supported to ‘live the life they want’.
He said: “The current Burnside building is becoming outdated so we want to know how people think the service should move forward.”
However, Mrs Guest said the council must not ‘simply go through the motions and then close the service without providing a proper alternative’.
“Don’t Cut Us Out is worried history is repeating itself as again the council is unable to provide any detail on what alternative services would replace Burnside,” said Mrs Guest.
“They are turning their backs on Burnside. The building has been allowed to fall into disrepair and there has been a lack investment in staff and in the service. Of course fewer people are using it as a result.”
Mrs Guest added: “The council can find money when it needs to. They are spending £1.5 million on Chichester Festival Theatre, whilst they let much valued services like Burnside go to the wall.
“It is a disgrace. I support the views of service users and their carers as well as the staff and the local county councillor who all feel there is a future for Burnside.”
The service currently has 57 users from around Mid Sussex.
At the meeting, one speaker said staff and service users ‘were like a family’ and called for investment to put its workshops, rooms and gardens to ‘good use’.
West Sussex county councillor and mayor of Burgess Hill Anne Jones, said: “If Burnside closes it will have an enormous impact on the users.
“The building needs a lot of money spent on it. If it was refurbished it could offer a range of services which would benefit the community.”
A spokeswoman for the council said: “Thank you to everyone who attended the public consultation meeting.
“All the comments from the meeting will be added to the consultation responses and will be considered before a decision is made on the how to improve the service for the future.”
The consultation will run until January 9, 2015. For more information call 0330 2225855.