Rallying call to support North Walsham’s new Atrium building

A surge of public support is needed to ensure the success of North Walsham's new �5.3m Atrium community complex, as it battles to plug a �40,000 hole in its budget.

The centre, which opened last autumn, is hosting a range of social and cultural activities.

But it is struggling to get itself known in the area and to fill funding gaps which have appeared since it was born into a recession-hit economy.

To ensure it is a goose laying golden eggs rather than a dead duck, the venture now needs the public to 'take it to their hearts'.

The building, on the town high school's campus, is about to start its first full financial year with a �40,000 to �50,000 budget deficit, and supporters say volunteer help will be crucial to its future.

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Funded during the final spending spree of the Labour government, The Atrium opened its doors on to a much more austere world, with a shoestring budget.

The multi-purpose centre is used in the daytime by pupils for lessons including drama, music, cookery, and dance, while its cafe is used as their break and lunchtime canteen.

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Until now the Benjamin Foundation and school staff have played a key role in decisions affecting the new building but, with an application in for The Atrium to become a charity, management ties are set to loosen.

A number of permanent tenants, including a nursery, private physiotherapist and adult education service staff, have moved in to the building.

Saturday Arts sessions and Saturday morning children's cinema are also proving popular.

But twice-weekly adult cinema evenings are only slowly attracting

bigger audiences, expected NHS tenants have not moved in to the building and The Atrium's limited budget means there is little cash available to help raise its profile.

Tony Kirwan, acting chairman of The Atrium's interim executive committee, agreed that many people in North Walsham were still unaware of the building and what it could offer the community.

Despite modest resources, it was vital that The Atrium now concentrated on publicising itself beyond school pupils and parents.

The Atrium would cost about �130,000 to run during the coming financial year, according to Mr Kirwan. The new charity's trustees would need to close the predicted �40,000 to �50,000 shortfall by attracting more tenants, more hirers and by bringing in far more paying customers.

A reducing sum from special high school funds, plus a one-off �35,000 grant from the Ellerdale Trust will make up a substantial amount of The Atrium's 2012-2013 income.

Mr Kirwan said The Atrium's arrival had coincided with great political and economic upheaval which had created problems. The former government's original vision for buildings like The Atrium included their use by Primary Care Trust (PCT) staff. But PCTs had since been disbanded, leaving Atrium chiefs with rooms to fill.

The new charity would employ a small number of full and part-time staff to manage the building: 'But we are not going to succeed without a large and well-supported cadre of volunteers,' said Mr Kirwan.

He appealed to community-minded helpers to get involved, and those willing to organise activities. For example, someone with a passion for Italian cinema could organise a programme of Fellini and Bertolucci classics, perhaps with an Italian menu on offer at the adjoining cafeteria.

Alternatively, anyone who wanted to see a particular adult education course offered could set it up: 'anything from Plato to zumba – we're open to ideas,' added Mr Kirwan.

He urged the people of North Walsham and district to take The Atrium to their hearts and help realise its exciting potential.

'North Walsham is now on the map,' he said. 'There is not another like The Atrium around and there is not going to be for a long time. It's transforming people's perceptions of North Walsham – it's a symbol of hope and growth for the future.'

To find out more ring 01692 400080 or visit: www.nwatrium.org.

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