Friends of the Silver Rooms committee members, from left, Ian Gibson, chairman; Julie Brociek-Coulton, secretary; and Sally Turner, discuss plans for the Silver Rooms as they start fundraising to buy the building. Picture: Denise Bradley

Time running out in fight to save the Silver Rooms

Tuesday, January 8, 2013
12.10 PM

Time is running out to save a former Norwich day centre and transform it into a “community hub”, campaigners have warned.

The Friends of the Silver Rooms today said they had reached a “crisis point” with the north Norwich building, which was closed as part of county council cuts, set to go up for auction next month.

But the campaigners, led by former Norwich North MP Ian Gibson and Sewell ward city councillor Julie Brociek-Coulton, are still a long way off raising the money needed to buy the site from Norfolk County Council.

The authority is willing to sell it to them for £80,000 with the money paid in a series of instalments over the next few years.

The first payment of £26,000 is now due, with a deposit of £2,600 supposed to have been paid last month.

Dr Gibson said it could become a “superb” centre but added: “We’re at a crisis point. I think we are convinced that there is a need for a community centre and I believe the money can be got together. People want this.”

But the group – which has been campaigning for three years – has been told it has had long enough to find the money and Cliff Jordan, county council cabinet member for efficiency, said the Silver Rooms would go up for sale on the open market next month.

He said: “It’s been booked into the auction. Although that still does not preclude them from buying it.

“Sooner or later, business has to continue.”

Mrs Brociek-Coulton said that meant the need for support from local businesses and people keen to see the building retained for the community was now very urgent.

She added: “It needs to be turned into a community hub. It’s going to be a bustling place. It’s going to be alive. It will turn Sewell, and Thorpe Hamlet, into this community hub where people can meet which is what’s been lost in communities there now.”

As well as campaigning for donations to help find the first payment, the Friends are trying to buy themselves more time by submitting an application to Norwich City Council to have the Silver Rooms designated an “asset of community value” under the Localism Act 2012.

The city council confirmed it had been contacted by the campaign group.

A spokesman said, if accepted, it “prevents the asset from being sold without giving the community group six weeks to decide if it wants to bid for it and, if it does want to bid, the sale cannot proceed for six months”.

They added: “In essence, what this does is allow the community group time to get a bid together to buy land or buildings if that’s the route they choose.”

Dr Gibson said the county council was now adamant the building must be sold but he urged them to consider the wider benefits of the Friends taking it on.

He said: “The council’s argument is that the taxpayers need the money. I think they need to balance that with the need and the use that would ensue if that building was taken over as a community centre.”

But Mr Jordan said he felt he had been “messed about” for too long and that there was a risk the building would fall into disrepair while the council waited for the money to turn up.

He added: “It annoys the hell out of me. It’s terrible to see things like that when they’ve become empty. They should be sold on or re-used straight away.

“I have genuinely and truthfully tried my level best to help these people.”

The Silver Rooms were previously used as a day centre for older people in the north Norwich.

The Friends plan to create a community centre – including a community cafe – which would be used by a variety of local groups and run for the benefit of young and old people in the area.

Once the campaigners have raised enough money to have the building handed over to them, they will then be more able to attract lottery funding and other grants.