Anger over plan to sell headquarters of Royal British Legion’s Norwich branch

The Jubillee Hall, Aylsham Road, Norwich that is under threat of closure . Angela Laing, centre with

The Jubillee Hall, Aylsham Road, Norwich that is under threat of closure . Angela Laing, centre with Alan Hewitt, right who have been collecting signatures for the petition. Photo: Steve Adams

Angry campaigners have vowed to fight plans to sell off the Royal British Legion's Norwich headquarters and close its thriving social club.

The Jubilee Hall, Aylsham Road, Norwich looks set to close.

The Jubilee Hall, Aylsham Road, Norwich looks set to close.

Members of the Norwich branch of the legion said Jubilee Hall in Aylsham Road, which already has bookings for more than 500 events next year, is a social lifeline that allows them to get out of the house and meet other people.

However, the hall's trustees from the legion's headquarters in London said that after examining the branch's business plan, they believed that keeping the premises 'involved an unacceptable level of risk to charitable funds'.

The branch has 222 members, most of whom served in the armed forces or are their dependents, and the hall is also used by other branches in the area.

Iowna Lester, 78, of Edmund Bacon Court, branded the proposals 'disgusting', and Angela Laing, 63, also of Edmund Bacon Court, said: 'If this is shut down I will be shut indoors at night because where else is there to go? I don't walk the streets on my own at night.'

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Maggie Parfitt, 72, of Bowers Avenue, said: 'I have been coming here 22 years. I think they are taking something away from me personally. I have not got anywhere else to go. There are no other clubs around here, there's only pubs, and I don't do pubs.'

The centre is due to close on January 1, but 350 people have so far signed a petition opposing the plans, and a public meeting will be held in the hall at 7pm on Thursday, October 17.

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The Norwich branch's social club previously ran into difficulties in November 2011 when it closed unexpectedly after the legion's head office withdrew the licence for the leaseholders to use their name, but it reopened early in 2012.

Kate Williams, The Royal British Legion area manager East Anglia and Essex said: 'The Norwich Branch has worked hard on behalf of their members and the local community to establish a social centre following the failure of the former legion club in 2011.

'The branch's business plan for the future was carefully considered by the trustees of The Royal British Legion who reluctantly concluded that it was not in the best interests of the trust under which the Royal British Legion hold the property and also involved an unacceptable level of risk to charitable funds.

'It has therefore been decided that the sale of the property is in the best interest of the charity and its charitable objectives in Norwich and the surrounding area. The legion will work with the branch to bring operations at Aylsham Road to a close and honour as many as possible of the bookings which have been made.'

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has written to Mark Simpkins, director general of the Royal British Legion in London, calling for a 'common sense solution' that would see a 'robust city presence' from the legion, and a strong turnout for the poppy appeal.

She said: 'I'm coming from the point of view of the Norwich community. We have a great facility there which is well loved and well used, and it would be a crying shame to lose that.

'I have been pursuing head office and county office to help the local branch find a way forward that benefits the community and that does the right thing for the charity, and in particular gives us a chance for a strong poppy appeal in November.'

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