A potted history of Hunstanton Community Centre
By Richard Bird
We are told that at the last full council at Hunstanton Town Council (HTC) there was a resolution to purchase the Community Centre freehold option for £1 with the understanding that the legal disbursements of about £3,000 would also be paid from Hunstanton Town Council to the Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council.
Well done to all concerned for bringing this episode to a productive end and let’s hope that the plans for its community development with potential, new children’s play area and perhaps a skate park option may now be brought forward for the benefit of the local residents.
The Mayor of Hunstanton Cllr Tony Bishopp reported ‘When we talk about a community asset, we mean buildings or land which are used for the well-being or social interest of the local community. A welcoming, community space where people can come and enjoy themselves, meet friends and where residents are offered the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of activities and events within their locality.
Although HTC currently manages the Community Centre on a lease from the Borough Council, the transfer of the freehold will open the potential to bring in new sources of grant income, previously unavailable.
HTC recognises community assets should play a central role in the life of local communities, providing a hub for civic life and features that attract newcomers to an area, which can in turn help stimulate the local economy’.
Cllr Amanda Knight, chair of the Environment panel, stated, ‘This is an exciting opportunity for the Council to incorporate a tree planting scheme around the perimeter of the community centre. This will not only enhance the cosmetic appearance of the site but will offer safe nesting for birds and improve the habitat of all wildlife there. We will also investigate the possibility of expanding the community orchard and will work alongside the Wild East project to rewild part of the area.’
Of course the Community Centre has a history and I would like to offer a simplistic and reduced version of it.
Many years ago, the land belonged to Norfolk County Council (NCC)and they had it for the usage of the children at Hunstanton Infant school, (now closed and still empty) as a playing field. It was perceived as being under-used and a building was constructed pretty much as you see it today. It was paid for by public subscription and grants, but mainly through local fundraising. The Nursery came later. So, the youth club that had previously operated from the Town Hall basement, some time before, was transferred to the new building. To cut the story even shorter NCC decided to withdraw funding for most youth clubs across the county including this one about twenty years ago; locals like us took their children to Dersingham where a facility of sorts was operating.
A new body of volunteers was created to run and develop the community aspects of the hall, mainly lettings for parties, organisation meetings and wedding receptions etc. Initially a very strong the committee, over the years, disappeared with just a couple left to run the place.
An incident occurred and NCC were advised that the place was being run improperly. This was unfortunate because although not great overall it wasn’t that bad. The committee was relieved of its responsibility and NCC approached HTC to see if they would be prepared to take it on. There was a proviso, it was that there were, by this time, a long list of repairs and remedials amounting to about £160,000. This meant that HTC had to provide a business plan to establish how funding would be raised. A couple of HTC members decided it was too much trouble and asked the KL&WNBC to get involved, this was against the wishes of the majority of HTC members. The Borough decided to usurp the Town and went into negotiations with NCC excluding HTC. NCC decided to support KL&WNBC and side-lined HTC.
The Borough took over the Community Centre conducted some, not all as specified, repairs and then charged the domestic ratepayers of Hunstanton the princely sum of £50,000 per year special expenses to run it. Members of HTC protested and after the first year this figure was reduced. Borough Council workers tried to run events like car boot sales and lettings but they proved to be uneconomical, and eventually the Borough relented and rented the whole grounds and buildings to HTC for a peppercorn rental, however they insisted that grass cutting and other maintenance was conducted by KL&WNBC at rates that were far from economical.
Development of the site has been discussed since the last clerk was employed but nobody would authorise works while a rental licence rather than freehold option was in place. It is hoped that HTC will manage this facility to a standard that will benefit local people, after all they are paying for it. This whole process has taken decades and it has to be hoped that it will be run properly and economically. Just as examples when the Princess Theatre was run by the KL&WNBC it consistently lost about £450,000 P/A. The Oasis, before it became part of Alive Leisure, lost an annual figure of about £500,000+.
The domestic ratepayers of Hunstanton currently pay the greatest amount of money of any of the 101 parishes and towns inside the KL&WNBC boundaries, this includes Special Expenses and Precepts that are exclusively paid by the townsfolk of Hunstanton.