A £100,000 cheque delivered to Wells Community Hospital this week has prompted big celebrations in the town.

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The funding boost comes at a time when it has been predicted that work on a new building with beds at the hospital could start within a year.

The project has been talked about for more than 10 years.

The £100,000 has come from Norfolk County Council’s Community Construction Fund and the cheque was delivered to hospital trustees and volunteers by county councillor Dr Marie Strong on Tuesday.

Wells Community Hospital chief executive Barry Dennis said the majority of this money will be used to reduce energy costs at the existing hospital building by replacing the 30-year-old boiler and heating system, installing better insulation, improving the disabled toilets and other general improvement work on the building.

Dr Strong said: “The hospital is important not only to Wells but to neighbouring communities in both north and west Norfolk.

“It is important because this is one of Norfolk’s most rural areas with its associated problems – poor transport, low incomes, an ageing population and rising health issues.”

Wells Community Hospital was closed briefly in 2004 by the NHS because of staff shortages and budgeting deficits, but reopened after a determined Save Wells Hospital campaign, which was backed by the EDP and its sister paper, The Fakenham and Wells Times.

Dr Strong said: “The re-opening came about because people valued and understood the importance of such a facility and worked together.

“The time has come to take this facility to the next level and develop the services and activities it provides.

“A key factor in this development is to bring the hospital building up to required standards and I am assured this award will go a long way towards this work.

“And in reaching this stage praise is due to the people of Wells and neighbouring parishes who have worked hard over these years to keep the hospital alive.

“Compliments are due to the CEO, the trustees and not least the volunteers who help within the hospital and in valuable fund-raising.”

A key part of a major redevelopment of the hospital is to add a new building with beds, estimated to cost between £3m and £4m.

This has been talked about for more than a decade, but trustee Chris Geering said this week: “I don’t want to raise people’s hopes unnecessarily but I believe we will see building work starting this time next year and for the facility to be completed 18 months after that.

“This is a big project but things are moving in the right direction.

“There are fund-raising events going on all the time and we have a new chief executive, Barry Dennis, who is doing a great job and has lots of ideas.”

He added: “We are extremely lucky to get this £100,000 from the county council and we are very grateful to the council and our councillor Dr Strong for fighting our corner and getting this money for improvements to the current building.”

One of the ideas Mr Dennis is now working on is the creation of a dementia hub at the hospital.

Volunteers are now being sought to help bring the plan to life.

The plans include activity sessions, a dementia friendly garden, a “smarthouse” demonstrating the most up to date aids, an information service, a café, and a training room for local businesses and organisations to become dementia aware.

The hub will need people for a whole range of things including helping run activity sessions, mentoring carers, helping out in the cafe, building and maintaining the garden and assisting with transport.

Anyone interested should contact the hospital on 01328 711996 or email barry.dennis@wellshospital.org.uk

The hospital is also looking for people to help with general activities including reception and administration work, gardening, maintenance, catering, help with the web site, marketing and fund-raising.

People can enjoy a fund-raising fashion show and afternoon tea at the Gordon Barrett Memorial Hall, next to the congregational church, on March 13 at 2.30pm.

Fashions will be by Normal For Norfolk.

Tickets are £6 and available by calling Ann Small on 01328 710530.

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