Centre scoops top accolade

RICHARD BATSON A centre which is transforming people's lives has won a top national award. Now other towns across north Norfolk are poised to get the same kind of help based on the successful model at Cromer.

RICHARD BATSON

A centre which is transforming people's lives has won a top national award.

Now other towns across north Norfolk are poised to get the same kind of help based on the successful model at Cromer.

Merchants' Place is home to a range of advice, training and business services which have been customised to the community's needs.

It has just been named the overall national winner of the Market Towns Awards, following on from its

earlier regional success and against competition from 132 schemes across England.

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More than 2,500 people a month walk through its door at the top of Cromer's Gangway to improve their basic and computing skills, get guidance on careers and training, join business courses, or recieve advice ranging from consumer debt to women's health.

People have changed careers, learned new skills, been given guidance after redundancy and migrant Polish workers taught to speak English as the centre responded to a previously unseen need.

It opened in May 2006 through the Cromer Past Present and Future non-profit-making company which has followed through the town's regeneration plans.

Chairman Peter Stibbons said the national success was a great honour and major recognition of the work that went into getting the centre up and running - ranging from community ideas to council

support.

Previous initiatives to raise vocational and leisure skills had never reached their full potential, but the number of people attending Merchants' Place was more than double the expected figure.

The building cost £500,000, and there was running cost funding until the end of 2007 when the board faced "challenges" in finding more money to keep services at the current

levels.

There were hopes of expansion, including providing more youth activities, if more volunteers

could be found to help run the facilities, which include computers, sound equipment and video

editing.

Project manager John Morgan said £100,000 worth of regional funding had just been agreed to help a £300,000, two-year scheme to provide similar services in other towns across north Norfolk, hopefully starting this winter.

To learn more about Merchants' Place services and opportunities to help with youth work call 01263 519454.

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