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Video: Essex Rooms community centre could be revamped and reopened - but what would you like to see there?

11:44 24 July 2014

New hope for the Essex Rooms, Norwich. Town Close county councillor Emma Corlett and Gail Durbin, trustee of Essex Community Rooms charity.Photo: Steve Adams

New hope for the Essex Rooms, Norwich. Town Close county councillor Emma Corlett and Gail Durbin, trustee of Essex Community Rooms charity.Photo: Steve Adams

A Norwich community centre which has been closed for five years has been reclaimed by residents.

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New hope for the Essex Rooms, Norwich. Barbara Smith who spent much of her life in the Essex Rooms.Photo: Steve AdamsNew hope for the Essex Rooms, Norwich. Barbara Smith who spent much of her life in the Essex Rooms.Photo: Steve Adams

The Essex Rooms, on Essex Street in the Golden Triangle, were used as a day centre for older people for nearly 40 years before closing in 2009 – but now plans are being made for the building’s reopening.

The new-look community space will be refurbished and could be used for adult education classes, trade school sessions and children’s activities.

A consultation will be held with people in the area to find out what they want from the 137-year-old building, after trustees agreed a 25-year lease and secured £10,000 of funding.

Trustee Emma Corlett, Labour county councillor for Town Close ward, said: “We’d like to get it up and running and get the community completely involved in what happens and how it runs, so that they lead what kind of activities they would like to take place.

‘It’s been my life’ - Barbara’s 39 years at the Essex Rooms

Barbara Smith worked at the Essex Rooms from its first day to the last, totalling nearly 40 years of service.

The 86-year-old worked at the day centre and lunch club for 11 years, and volunteered for the next 28 years, until the centre closed in 2009.

During that time the building became “almost a second home”, with her children spending time playing after school, and her daughter holding her wedding reception there.

“It was such a shame when they closed it. I went to County Hall several times to protest but it didn’t do any good,” she said.

“It would be wonderful to bring it back into use. It’s been a wonderful place. It’s been my life.”

In its heyday, the building was known for having the best dancefloor in Norwich, said Mrs Smith – something she would like to see revived in the refurbished building.

She added: “We want to refurbish the building to a really high standard so that we make the best of the really lovely building and get people wanting to come here.”

The plans for the Essex Rooms follow the saving of the Silver Rooms, in the north of the city, which had been earmarked for sale after Norfolk County Council stopped providing day care services in a social care shake-up.

More than 100 people attended an open meeting last September to discuss the future of the Essex Rooms, with the ideas suggested including cookery classes, bike repair workshops, CV tips sessions and money management advice.

People could also be encouraged to lead one-off classes sharing their own personal expertise, on a ‘trade school’ model.

The trustees have been given a £10,000 grant to develop a business plan for the centre, which could include meeting rooms and a revamped kitchen so that other community groups can use it.

An open afternoon will be held at the Essex Rooms between 5pm and 7pm on September 5.

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