Lifeline offered to save Royal British Legion HQ and club in Norwich

Businessman Martin Wyatt wants to save the Royal British Legion Jubilee Hall in Aylsham Road, Norwic

Businessman Martin Wyatt wants to save the Royal British Legion Jubilee Hall in Aylsham Road, Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Bill Smith - Archant

A city businessman has offered a lifeline to campaigners fighting to save the Royal British Legion's HQ and social club in Norwich.

As reported, bosses at the legion's London head office want to sell off the Norwich headquarters in Aylsham Road and close its thriving club, the Jubilee Hall.

But a potential lifeline has been offered by Martin Wyatt, who has offered to sponsor the Jubilee Hall for a year to save it from closure, and today the RBL offered to talk to him and set up a meeting.

It comes after furious campaigners vowed to fight the plans claiming that Jubilee Hall, which already has bookings for more than 500 events next year, was a social lifeline that allowed them to get out of the house and meet other people.

Earlier, the legion's branch property trust trustee committee 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', and that the property should be sold.

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Mr Wyatt, who owns the Head in the Clouds and Feet on the Ground shops in Pottergate, wrote to the legion's headquarters offering to underwrite the hall and act as a guarantor against loss.

He said: 'That would mean that the RBL would no longer face financial liability or vulnerability for losses sustained at the hall, so there would be no reason to close it.

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'I want to introduce a sound business plan for the club, based on maximising use of the hall, and involving as many people in its management as possible, added to a philosophy of getting on with the job.'

Mr Wyatt is a conductor with St Gregory's Orchestra, based at the United Reformed Church in Princes Street, which has been invited by the legion to play at the launch of its poppy appeal later this month.

He added: 'Jubilee Hall was built with funds from the Norwich branch of the Royal British Legion and serves as its headquarters and social and community centre.

'It is a well-loved spacious building, used daily, with over 500 bookings for next year already, financially viable with a dedicated team of members who give of their time, money and skill on a regular basis to serve the legion, the users and the city.

'It was therefore a huge shock to many people that it's being sold. Reasons given are totally specious, with no respect for the history of the movement, the hall or people involved, nor indeed of common sense.'

A spokesman for the Royal British Legion in London said they had received My Wyatt's letter and were trying to make contact with him to set up a meeting.

As reported, Norwich North MP Chloe Smith wrote 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 she was upset she had not received a response to her letter, but added: 'I welcome Mr Wyatt's offer which could prove to be a great solution. It's very kind and generous of him. And it shows just how much community spirit there is behind the legion and Jubilee Hall in Norwich.'

The centre is due to close on January 1, but hundreds of 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.

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.

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.

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