Row over future of Hellesdon Community Centre

PUBLISHED: 16:12 19 November 2014 | UPDATED: 13:25 20 November 2014

Hellesdon community centre.  Photo: Bill Smith

Hellesdon community centre. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2012

A row has erupted over the future of Hellesdon Community Centre, after the charitable trust which has run it for 24 years said it was not included as an option for residents to choose in a survey about how it should be run.

Hellesdon Parish Council’s fact sheet about the centre

• What is Hellesdon Community Centre?

Hellesdon Community Centre was officially opened in 1959 by the parish council as a hub for the local community. The management of the centre was assigned to the Hellesdon Community Centre Charity by a 28-year lease for a peppercorn rent from January 1, 1960. The lease was renewed for a further 28-year period from January 1, 1988. In 1988 the building was subject to major refurbishment and extension. The building work which then cost about £0.25 million was funded by the parish council through a public works loan which has recently been finally paid off.

The centre is currently hired out to a wide range of community groups and organisations including everything from zumba classes to bingo sessions.

• Who owns it and who currently runs it?

The centre is owned by Hellesdon Parish Council on behalf of the residents of Hellesdon and is currently leased to Hellesdon Community Centre Charitable Trust (charity number 298447) who aim to work in partnership with Hellesdon Parish Council to deliver services and facilities.

• How much does Hellesdon Parish Council currently contribute to the running of the Centre?

The current council expenditure on the community centre is in excess of £100,000 per annum. All income from lettings of facilities in the Centre goes to the charity. Much of the expenditure, especially the cost of care-taking staff for the period 7.30am to 11pm Monday to Saturday and half the cost of care-taking on Sundays from 8am to 5pm is met by the parish council, which employs the caretakers. The caretakers undertake some duties for the parish council during their working shifts but it is estimated 90pc of their time is spent working for the centre. The charity makes payments to the council for approximately half of the costs of the care-taking service on Sundays and also for any requirement by the centre for care-taking services outside the normal operating hours. The charity pays a rent of £1 per annum for lease of the centre.

•Why is the lease being reviewed?

Hellesdon Parish Council last entered into a lease with the Trustees of Hellesdon Community Centre on December 15, 1987 to run Hellesdon Community Centre for a period of 28 years expiring in December 2015. The lease is now due to expire and the council must review the situation. In undertaking this review the council has a duty to local residents to ensure that services or other funding paid for by the residents through the local council tax precept are continuously reviewed to ensure value for money, meet local need and support the delivery of the council’s future objectives.

Hellesdon Parish Council is currently consulting with people in the area about the future of the centre, in Middletons’ Lane, which is currently run by Hellesdon Community Centre Charitable Trust working in partnership with the council.

The council has asked people to complete a questionnaire which outlines three possible options for its future.

While one option is for the council to “partner with other experienced organisations to manage the centre”, the trust argues that few local people realise the centre is run separately from the parish council and could choose the first option for “the parish council to run the centre itself” under the misapprehension that this would be a vote for the status quo to continue.

John Knowles, of HCC charitable trust, said: “This would be misleading and inaccurate.

“We believe that the results of this questionnaire cannot reflect the true wishes of Hellesdon people.”

The current lease for the centre is due to expire in December 2015, and the not-for-profit trust says it has tried unsuccessfully to meet with the council to discuss the continuation of the lease.

Mr Knowles, who said the trust wanted to work with the council to bring down the cost of care-taking at the centre, added: “We own all of the furniture, the majority of the fittings and the assets of the centre. In recent years our investment in improvements has exceeded £100,000.” He added that the busy centre is used by a wide range of groups, and this year it is planning to offer a free Christmas Day lunch to people in Hellesdon who would normally spend the day alone.

The parish council, which said it spends more than £100,000 per year on the centre, said everybody’s views will be taken into account and to help inform the final council decision to be made in February 2015.

A spokesman said: “Hellesdon Parish Council welcomes this opportunity to provide the community with further information regarding the review of the lease arrangements of the Hellesdon Community Centre.

“We are in the middle of a public consultation and wish to hear the views of Hellesdon residents. It is important to note that no final decision has yet been made regarding the future management arrangements for the centre and the parish council confirms that everybody’s views will be taken into account during the preparation of the various business cases which will be developed to help inform the final Council decision to be made in February 2015.

“However the final decision will take into account the need to ensure value for money, meeting local need and fully supports the delivery of the council’s future objectives.”

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