New homes cash could save heritage centre job

A �32,000 Government new homes bonus awarded to Aylsham Town Council could be used to save the only permanent job at the town's newly opened heritage centre.

The centre, which celebrated its first birthday and 2,000th customer on July 7, can only afford to employ its part-time learning officer until January. If further funds cannot be found, the popular resource will have to be manned by volunteers.

The new homes bonus is being distributed by central government to parts of the country which have seen growth, in particular new housing development. Broadland District Council has qualified for the scheme and last month's cabinet meeting agreed that part of the funding would be given to eligible towns and parishes, including Aylsham.

During a meeting this month, Aylsham Town councillors considered ways to spend the unexpected windfall, which must be used to provide added value to local communities.

They were in favour of giving a large chunk of the money to the heritage centre and resolved to investigate the cost of employing the learning officer for another year before making a final decision, which must then be approved by Broadland.

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Speaking after the meeting, councillor Jim Pannell said the heritage centre had made 'a really important' contribution to the town and visitors in the year it has been open by engaging with the community, working with schools and promoting Aylsham's heritage.

'The position of learning officer has brought a great deal to promoting those objectives and that will be hard to achieve with volunteers,' he added.

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The heritage centre is run by the Aylsham Community Partnership and is located in the old church rooms in the grounds of St Michael's Church. It is currently funded by a grant from Biffaward and the Heritage Lottery Fund but will be expected to meet its own running costs from next year.

Aylsham Heritage Centre learning officer Jayne Andrews said: 'The centre is very well used. We have children's activities in the holidays that are always fully booked and we also go in to schools, It is a resource that is growing. We have had lots of different Aylsham history exhibitions and the town council photo archive is always on display here.

'If we try to run the centre solely with volunteers not as many learning activities will happen and the exhibitions won't change as often.'

During last week's meeting, town councillors were also asked to consider spending some of the money on regeneration projects, the Bee Pollinator Project and the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust.

Upcoming events at the centre include: under the sea crafts, July 25; scavenger hunt and town trail, July 26, 10.30am to 3.30pm, �3 per family; story writing, July 27; puppet making, August 1; paper batik, August 2; pop-ups, August 3.

Workshops run from 10am to noon and cost �3 per child. Story writing is for over-sevens only and under-sevens must be accompanied at other events.

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