Delight for campaigners after former Norwich day centre saved for community
PUBLISHED: 06:53 14 March 2014 | UPDATED: 06:54 14 March 2014
Campaigners have won their fight to turn a former Norwich day centre into a community centre, after a long-running battle stretching back for years.
And they have a simple message for the community - now the Silver Rooms have been saved, it is up to the community to make a success of it.
The building, off Silver Road in the north of the city, has been empty since Norfolk County Council decided to stop providing day services for elderly people there as part of a shake-up in social care.
A group of older people used to meet in the centre and an initial fight, backed by a Norwich Evening News campaign, focused on saving it for that purpose.
When it became clear the older people would be moved to other venues in the city, in March 2011, the campaigners switched to trying to safeguard the building for use by the local community.
The Friends of the Silver Rooms was set up, spearheaded by trustees including former Norwich North MP Ian Gibson and Julie Brociek-Coulton, city and county councillor, to try to turn it into a community centre.
And their battle has now been won, after the county council agreed the group can lease the building for a peppercorn rent for the next 25 years and transform it for community use.
The former Conservative administration at the county council had wanted to sell it to bring in money.
But Labour/Liberal Democrat administration said the building will be saved for the community - so long as the community could prove they can make it work.
This week, a lease was signed, handing over the Silver Rooms for the next 25 years at a peppercorn rent.
Dr Gibson said: “Of all the campaigns I have been involved with, this has been the longest, hardest battle of them all, but I am so pleased the community kept on supporting us.
“We had public meetings and open days which were always well attended and people never gave up because we knew how much this was wanted.
“I think if we hadn’t got involved it would have ended up being flats. Now we have got the building we are going to improve it to a high standard.”
Dr Gibson said grants and lottery money would help make the building suitable for a wide variety of groups to use it and said some 40 organisations had expressed an interest.
He said: “The community are going to have to run it. We have got it for them and it is now up to them what they do with it. We will need to get trustees in place and get a manager in.
“I believe in communities and in co-operatives systems and, in these days of councils cutting services, people are having to do things for themselves. I think this is an example of that and, it may yet become a model for other things across the city.”
Dr Gibson said he hoped part of the building could be turned into an ‘idea centre’, similar to a London-based charity called Nesta, to support people who come up with innovative ideas and give them practical help in making them happen.
And he floated the suggestion it could become a base for a ‘free university’, with retired lecturers and head teachers passing on their expertise to students of all ages.
Mrs Brociek-Coulton said rooms would be made available for all sorts of groups, while a community cafe is planned.
She said: “I think it is absolutely amazing that at long last this has happened. I cannot believe that we actually have got the keys.
“We just hope the community will support us now. We need them to get involved and we need trustees to come forward. It’s going to take a while before it can actually open as a community centre. We need to do some soundproofing, for example, and we’re keen to hear from anybody who wants to help or get involved.”
Hilda Bullen, 85, who used to go to the lunch club when the Silver Rooms was a day centre said: “I am pleased they are going to do something with it, because it’s such an old building and every time I look at it I think about how it used to be.
“For us, though, the hall was always secondary to keeping the friends we had at the club together and we managed to do that. I now go to Alfred Nicholls Court and the Vauxhall Centre and it’s lovely.”
People who want to get involved can call 07786 694325, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.facebook.com/SilverRoadCommunityCentre
• Are you fighting to get a community campaign off the ground? Tell us about it by calling Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email email@example.com