Plan to buy former Cromer courthouse for town youth centre

Cromer residents are being urged to join a snowballing campaign to buy the town's former courthouse and turn it into a haven for young people.

A growing number of supporters, including some of Cromer's key figures, are backing 'The Nick' project - the name given to a vision for the disused police station and magistrates' court on Holt Road.

They believe the building, which is currently for sale with a �350,000 price tag, offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give the town's youth somewhere they can at last call their own.

Councillors, youth group and Cromer Carnival leaders, and business people are among those who say the building could provide meeting rooms, performance areas, recording, film-making and IT facilities - and even a small-scale outdoor skatepark.

And, sited opposite the rail station and with its own parking, it could also serve a wider community use for other events.

But they are warning that speed is imperative as the prime site is likely to be snapped up by a developer and a slice of Cromer's heritage could be lost.

Businessman Bruce Stratton, one of the project trailblazers, said he thought the town would probably need to raise 'the thick end of �1m' to buy and convert the building.

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He believes the goal is tough, but achievable and said it was vital that there was a large groundswell of support from the community to prove the need, and attract funding.

'Cromer's a lovely place to live but let's be brutally honest, what is there to keep young people here?' said Mr Stratton, 60, managing director of Cromer-based Creative Tourism Ideas and Solutions.

'Unless the youth of the town belong to groups like the Scouts or Guides there is nowhere in Cromer they can meet in real safety, play music, enjoy each other's company.'

In the past Cromer has had a succession of youth clubs which have fizzled out for reasons including funding problems, a lack of volunteers to run them and the inconvenience of having to pack up everything after sessions to make way for other users.

Town, district and county councillor Hilary Thompson, a firm supporter of The Nick project, said there was a flourishing church youth club but it did not attract Cromer's harder-to-reach young people.

She added: 'This is a deprived area and there are youth out there who are looking for an extended family and don't have it. We need something that will keep them off the streets. We don't want to dictate to them. This venue would be somewhere to put the things they tell us they want.'

She did not think the building's possible use by the wider community would impact unduly on other venues as Merchant's Place offered smaller facilities and the community centre would not be used by those who needed close-at-hand parking.

Cromer mayor Greg Hayman said The Nick was a great opportunity. He added: 'It's so much better than kids hanging around the streets. We've seen recently what can happen, in London and other major cities.'

Diane Skipper, group scout leader with 1st Cromer Sea Scouts, said young people were told off for congregating on the church wall or in bus shelters but there was no provision for them simply to socialise and their earlier skatepark dream had been dashed.

* Supporters are planning to call a public meeting if enough people express support for the idea. Anyone interested is asked to send their name, address, telephone number and email address to Mr Stratton - email or ring 01263 515900.