Shadow defence secretary vows to try to help save Norwich hall from closure

Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker visits the Royal British Legion in Norwich with Jess Asato where he met Norwich branch president Ralph Gayton(right) and members who use Jubilee Hall.
Photo by Simon Finlay. Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker visits the Royal British Legion in Norwich with Jess Asato where he met Norwich branch president Ralph Gayton(right) and members who use Jubilee Hall. Photo by Simon Finlay.

Friday, February 21, 2014
6:13 AM

Campaigners battling to save the Royal British Legion’s Jubilee Hall in Norwich have fresh hope today after the shadow defence secretary vowed to intervene to try and fight off the threat of closure.

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Veterans and users of the Aylsham Road club have been battling to keep it running since its closure was announced last year, with Legion bosses saying that to keep it open would pose an “unacceptable risk” to charitable funds.

Vernon Coaker, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, visited the hall yesterday and said he would write to the Royal British Legion to see if he could get them to change their minds.

Mr Coaker, who was told about the Norwich Evening News-backed campaign to keep the venue open, said: “I certainly support the efforts of the local community to keep it open.

“Just walking around it and meeting the people here you can get a sense of how big an asset it is to the local community. I’m going to write to the Royal British Legion and ask them to look again at their plans and see whether they can take into account the importance of it to the community and reverse the plans.

“Let’s put the community first here. Let’s hope that common sense prevails.”

Mr Coaker met veterans and families of serving military personnel at the visit arranged by Jess Asato, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Norwich North.

She said: “I’m delighted that Vernon Coaker has leant his backing to this community campaign to save what is a greatly valued and much-loved community centre and asset.”

Iowna Lester, 79, from the neighbouring Edmund Bacon Court sheltered housing complex, said she was pleased Mr Coaker had agreed to intervene as they had “nowhere else to go”.

She said: “I want it to stay open. I use it all the time. You can come in here and get a beautiful roast dinner for £5.”

Negotiations over a sale or lease option of the hall broke down between Legion bosses and campaigners at the end of last year, and city businessman Martin Wyatt, who was leading the talks, said he was too shattered to fight on.

The hall was expected to close on January 1, as the branch could no longer continue to operate it, as they could not afford the monthly outgoings.

But it has now emerged the hall will remain open until August with Ralph Gayton, the new president of the Norwich branch, revealing they are working on an interim plan to keep it open for even longer to give themselves a chance of finding a more permanent solution.

An application has been submitted to Norwich City Council to get the social club listed as an asset of community value, under the Localism Act, which would give campaigners fighting to save it a six-month breathing space before it could be sold.

A spokesman for the Royal British Legion said: “Jubilee Hall will remain open and operational whilst the application for the property to be registered as an asset of community value under the Localism Act is considered by Norwich City Council. No further decisions on the future of the property will be made until the outcome of this application is known.”

The Norwich Evening News has been backing the efforts to retain the club through the Save Our Jubilee Hall campaign.

Anyone who wants to enquire about hiring the hall should call 01603 414915.

Are you fighting to keep a community asset open? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email peter.walsh@archant.co.uk

Being on the council’s list of community assets does not restrict who the owner of a property can sell to or at what price. Nor does it give a right of first refusal to a community interest group.

What it does mean is that, if a property is put up for sale, community interest groups get extra leeway to raise money to bid for it.

Norwich’s Silver Rooms are on the Norwich City Council list of community assets, buying campaigners precious time to raise the thousands of pounds needed to buy the former Norwich day centre and turn it into a community centre.

Mr Gayton said: “If we can get the Jubilee Hall listed it will give us a clear six months to try and open the hall permanently. It’s a wonderful place and the more people we can get using it then the better chance we’ve got of keeping it going.”

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