Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Charles Burrell Committee report for Mayor Making 2014


Thank-you Madam Chairman, normally when I say a few words at the Annual Town meeting I look back at what was said the year before. But the Charles Burrell Committee did not exist then, indeed the site was still fully functioning as a High School. And that in itself shows just how rapidly things have progressed in the last 12 months! It was around about this time last year that the Town Council resolved to hold a public meeting at the site to give local residents and groups that used the site the chance to have their say about its impending closure. As those present at that meeting will recall, it was a well attended meeting with strong passions expressed for keeping as much of the site available as possible. Following this, the Town Council agreed to establish the Charles Burrell Committee to explore the feasibility of preserving the site and at this point we engaged Robert Ashton to help co-ordinate a feasibility study into this. Several open days were held for groups interested in using parts of the building and as best possible costs were identified by the Committee.

Fortunately, thanks to a change in administration at County Hall we were able to safeguard the site whilst we considered all of the options available. 

The feasibility report was concluded and presented to a Special Council in November and Councillors accepted that the project had a great deal of potential and agreed to take it to the next level which was to discuss options with Norfolk County Council. After considerably lobbying we were naturally very pleased when NCC agreed to our requests for a 30-year lease with no break-clauses exercisable on their part. We were of course nervous about investing time and money into the project only for NCC to take the site back when they felt like it or when they had figured out what they may want to do with it. Crucially for the Town Council however was the fact that the lease allows us to hand back to site to NCC at anytime in the first five years with just 3 months notice and then allows break-points for us every 5 years, if we choose to exercise it. Also, the lease allows TTC to transfer the lease to a charitable trust of its choice – something the Council has been exploring in recent weeks. The fact that there was such strong demand and that the lease was so advantageous for TTC resulted in members of the Council agreeing to sign it and become fully-committed to keeping the site open.

A new Project Co-ordinator has been recruited and additional sessional staff will be recruited in the near future. We currently have around 50 different organisations that have expressed an interest in using the site – some on a sessional basis of just a few hours a week and others wanting a more permanent base. What’s been particularly nice so far is learning about how many groups are now able to increase the activities that they provide, or what services they are able to locate locally thanks to this venue now being available. 

Finally, to close, I would like to thank the members of the Charles Burrell Committee for their work and support in recent months – but not just in meetings but also for the hard graft that Councillors have put in cleaning the site and moving furniture etc and I’d also like to thank the very many people that have signed up as volunteers and supported the project so far. I’m hopeful that support will continue and this will become a thriving, and sustainable Centre for all residents of Thetford.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Charles Burrell Centre - Update

For Thetford Town Council - Full Council – 29.04.14

The month of April has seen volunteers signed up to support the project - approximately 20 different volunteers to date, and much work has taken place on site to get it ready. This has included moving furniture around the building to appropriate locations, cleaning the whole site and sifting through rubbish and generally getting to grips with operational issues – such as locating and labelling keys! Norfolk County Council has provided at cost to them two large skips for general rubbish and one paper / cardboard recycling bin which have been made use of. In addition, we have recycled where possible including glass, textiles and metal. A fire warden course has been provided to the volunteers and prospective tenants. There are numerous health and safety considerations and these are currently being prioritised and worked through by the Project Co-ordinator, liaising with the Health and Safety Consultant and H&S Committee as necessary. Quotes for the supply of necessary services have also been sought.

The first phase of users will begin officially utilising the Charles Burrell Centre from Thursday 1st May 2014. The initial users are; Thundercat Cheerleaders, Thetford & District Model Railway Club, Red Hot Catering, Thetford Players, Well Made Theatre Group and Zumba. Thundercats have been sessionally hiring space through April and are clearly a popular activity locally. In the near future, these organisations will be joined by; Thetford Athletics, Living for Life and Thetford Toy Library. Other ad hoc hirers will also be occurring including West Suffolk College and Adult Education.

Collectively, these organisations will be contributing approximately £6,000 per month towards the running costs of the Centre which goes a long way towards addressing the approximate £100k per annum in running costs that will be incurred. The ‘Company Shop’ i.e. social supermarket, will be visiting the site on Friday 7th May 2014 to progress plans. The CB Centre Committee will be meeting with Sarah Dunwell from Company Shop and Robert Ashton.

The funding application to Moving Thetford Forward for £75,000 in funding to support the installation of solar panels and to replace some of the windows is currently being assessed and we hope that this is successful. Robert Ashton is progressing our main funding application to SIB. Additional funding opportunities have also been identified.

The main lease between Thetford Town Council and Norfolk County Council is as of yet not finalised and it is imperative that this is completed as soon as possible. Because of this, we are currently only able to offer to our first phase users a tenancy at will. This situation will hopefully be resolved by the end of this week. Additional terms and conditions for sessional hirers have been established, utilising the very thorough T&Cs for the Guildhall complex as a foundation.


There are currently around 50 different organisations that have expressed an interest in using the Charles Burrell Centre. This presents a number of different issues and we have much work to do to make the building a well-run, successful and sustainable centre, but this is a positive challenge to be faced with and it’s encouraging that there are so many organisations expressing an interest and there is clearly a need for the centre.