Monday, 25 May 2015

Charles Burrell Mayor Making Report - May 2015


Report for Mayor Making / Annual Town Meeting – May 2015

By Terry Jermy

The Charles Burrell Committee met frequently over the past year as the plan to re-open the Centre materalised and things quickly took off. This time last year our first tenants had moved in and began delivering their activities. Word quickly spread that the Centre was open for business and several new organisations came forward. 2 became 4, which became 8, which became 16 quite quickly – as of today there’s 27 permanent tenants and up to 30 regular sessional hirers. The project received a significant boost in September last year when a new manager came onboard in the form of Mark Snowdon, a former Charles Burrell pupil himself who had 9 years experience as the Deputy Manager at the Leisure Centre. Marks first week of work was dominated by the Centres Open Day that took place on the 6th September which turned out to be a huge success, organized by one the centres regular volunteers – Sharon Nash. The event gave groups that use the Centre the opportunity to showcase themselves; recruiting new volunteers and members and raising funds in some cases. The open day also gave former pupils, some from the 1960’s and 70’s the chance to walk around the school and see how it had changed over time. Several former teachers also attended. Pupils and teachers alike were so pleased that the school had been saved from demolition. It was pleasing to be able to offer former pupils and teachers with a venue to hold a memorable service to notable former headmaster Derek Briggs who sadly passed away – a memorial bench dedicated to Mr Briggs now also stands in the middle courtyard section of the site.

Moving forward, new tenants continued to confirm throughout the Autumn and into the Winter months – the most significant of which was West Suffolk College who committed to six classrooms and two offices, not just boosting the Centre financially, but also improving the education and training offer in Thetford – a win win for the town. The most recent tenant to confirm has been Hertz, the car rental business, highlighting that the Centre is a home for a broad range of organisations ranging from Thetford Foodbank through to commercial businesses – all benefitting from usage of the centre and additionally benefiting from increased networking opportunities and enhanced ability to work together; sharing ideas and resources wherever possible.

This rush of interest at the start of this year led to the Town Council agreeing an injection of cash to bring forward the recruitment of a new full-time administration assistant to help with the rapidly increasing enquiries and admin related tasks. We were pleased to be able to offer the position to Karen Robinson, a resident of the Barnham Cross area and herself a former user of the site through her daughters involvement with roller skating. Karen was one of the people that attended the public meeting way back in July 2013 to discuss keeping the site open, fitting therefore that Karen was now joining the staff team to make the project a success.

From the 1st April this year the Centre has been run by a newly created organization – Charles Burrell Centre Ltd – which has taken on the management and development of the site from Thetford Town Council. This saw the completion of the Committees work and our last meeting took place during March of this year. From the 1st April a new management committee was formed for Charles Burrell Centre Ltd, consisting of 11 members. There are 3 Town Council representatives, elected by the Town Council, 3 tenant representatives elected by tenants at the Centre, 1 Norfolk County Council representative, elected by the NCC Communities Committee and 1 community representative, the current Chairman of the Barnham residents group. In addition to this there are 3 co-opted members of the board, chosen for specific skills and experience which they can offer. This new board, democratically chosen in an open and transparent way as it should be and reflecting the various stakeholders that exist.

It is early days but the new board are already making fantastic progress and they are optimistic for the year ahead. Anyone can become a member of the new organization and have a say in the future of the Centre, shares can be purchased for just £1 and as you might expect, I have share forms here if anyone would like one. In addition, there’s numerous volunteering opportunities at the Centre so please do enquire if you are interested. Applications forms also available!

We were incredibly fortunate to safeguard Charles Burrell for the town, a rare window of opportunity, and rarer still, one that was grasped. Now it’s everyone’s job to keep it available and to enable it to thrive. Throughout our research stage we travelled to both Barnsley and Leeds to view examples of good community projects and to learn from what they had done. Our discussion on the train journey home on those occasions about how it would be great for people to visit Thetford to learn from our community, may just be that little bit more realistic now. Thank-you.