Norwich’s Silver Rooms on brink of being saved for the community

The county council has agreed to offer the Silver Rooms to community groups.

The county council has agreed to offer the Silver Rooms to community groups. - Credit: ©Archant Photographic 2010

Campaigners have won their fight to stop a former day centre being sold to a private developer, after the county council scrapped plans to put it up for auction and offered it to community groups.

Leaders at Norfolk County Council are inviting groups to bid to take on the Silver Rooms for a peppercorn rent - which could pave the way for it to be transformed into a community centre.

The building, off Silver Road in the north of the city, has been empty since Norfolk County Council decided to stop providing day services for elderly people there as part of a shake-up in social care.

The former Conservative administration at the county council, which is facing having to make £182m savings over the next three years, had wanted to sell it to bring in money.

But the new Labour/Liberal Democrat administration, which had previously indicated it would abandon those plans and announced today that the building will be saved for the community - so long as the community can prove they can make it work.

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The group with the best proposal and a sustainable business plan - which can be formulated after further discussion with the county council following the deadline on August 15 - will be offered the opportunity to take on the long term lease of the Silver Rooms for minimal rent.

Steve Morphew, cabinet member for finance, performance and corporate resources at Norfolk County Council, said: 'The local community has campaigned for the chance to make the Silver Rooms work for them, and I think they deserve that opportunity.

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'The benefits of leasing this building could be considerable to the local community.

'The financial position of the county council is dire now that the cuts in government funding have stretched out to an eye watering £182m in the next three years, so we cannot avoid damaging and awful cuts to services.

'But, by being creative where we can, we will try to help local communities because more self-sufficient.

'I would urge any community group with a good idea to contact me over the next week or so and let us know how they think this building could work for them.'

The Friends of the Silver Rooms, spearheaded by former Norwich North MP Ian Gibson and city and county councillor Julie Brociek-Coulton, have long campaigned for the building not to be sold, but turned into a community centre.

While they would have to go head to head with any other community groups which express an interest in taking on the building, they said they hoped they stood a good chance of success.

Dr Gibson said: 'I am so excited about this. We have had some money from Locality, which is the government's partner in helping community organisations, which has enabled us to draw up a business plan, so we are ready to put that in.

'We have talked to 40 or 50 groups which run organisations and all are very keen to get involved, and getting keener as the potential to make it happen gets closer.

'We are also talking to various companies who want to help through charitable arms.'

Dr Gibson said he hoped that part of the building could be turned into an 'idea centre', similar to a London-based charity called Nesta, to support people who come up with innovative ideas and give them practical help in making them happen.

He said: 'We have had lots of ups and downs along the way, but I can see light at the end of the tunnel. We are in the frame and we will be fighting hard.'

Mrs Brociek-Coulton, said: 'I have been working with the team on this for four years and it is great to see this option is on the table. 'I am sure we will show we have a good business case together and hope we stand a really good chance of being selected.'

While the demise of the Silver Rooms saw pensioners protesting at County Hall and the formation of the Friends group to turn it into a community centre, less fanfare greeted the end of another county council-owned day centre which was closed at about the same time.

The county council had also planned to sell the Essex Rooms, in Essex Street, off Unthank Road.

However, last month, a public meeting was held to explore the possibility of it remaining in use for the community.

About 40 residents made suggestions for its future at the meeting, with ideas ranging such as yoga, a dads' group and children's cooking club.

Councillor Emma Corlett said she was optimistic a community organisation could be formed to draw up a long-term business plan the county council would accept.

Any community group with a sustainable business plan for the future use of the Silver Rooms is asked to write to Steve Morphew at Norfolk County Council, County Hall, Martineau Lane, Norwich, Norfolk, NR1 2DH, by Friday, August 15

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