Dereham Memorial Hall (Agenda Item 8)
To review the use of the Memorial Hall.
Mr Tony Needham, Clerk to Dereham Town Council was in attendance with Mr Tim Burt, Dereham Town Councillor and Mrs Kate Millbank Dereham Town Mayor.
Papers provided by the Clerk had been circulated to Members in a Supplement to the Agenda which explained the journey of Dereham Memorial Hall since it had been awarded a £250,000 grant by the District Council.
Mr Needham recapped the background and detail of the grant award and also the strategy to see the Hall used more regularly by more people. The first two years had seen a year on year increase. The Hall was ‘fit for the next 100 years’ and was excellent value for money and of benefit to the whole community.
Mr Burt asked why the matter had been brought to Scrutiny and the Chairman explained that it was the Commission’s duty to review the Council’s business and its relationship with other partner organisations. The Memorial Hall had received a much larger grant than was usually given by the Council and the Commission was interested to see that it had delivered what it said it would.
Mrs Millbank was aware that one Councillor had raised issues and Mr Bambridge said he was probably that Member. He had written to Dereham Town Council about some concerns and although he had received an answer he had not been happy that his questions had been answered. He had written again and was still awaiting definite answers. Since asking for the matter to be brought to Scrutiny he had received many enquiries from the public asking what was happening. The gist of their concerns was that the Hall was expensive to hire and difficult to contact because it was not open enough and not enough was going on. There had also been a letter to the press suggesting that a paid individual, together with volunteers, should run the Hall as a part commercial, part community owned venture.
Mr Needham confirmed that he had received correspondence from Mr Bambridge which had been answered in a timely manner. The complaints he referred to had not been specified and so it had been difficult to respond without further details which had not been forthcoming. The request to attend the Commission had put any further correspondence on hold.
Mrs Millbank advised that people could book the Hall in the town, on line or by telephone and there was an advertisement in the Hall with that information.
Mr Burt said it was a general purpose Hall and it would be inappropriate to have a booking office open all the time.
The Vice-Chairman had run Community Centres and was encouraged to see that the Hall was not costing Dereham Town Council a lot of money relatively speaking; in fact it was more or less breaking even. The hiring figures were good and so was the website. It was the sort of worthwhile project the Council should support.
The Chairman had received a note from Councillor Goreham (Dereham Ward Representative) who was unable to attend but wanted to say that the Hall was running very efficiently.
Councillor Gilbert thought the Hall was a wonderful venue. He was aware of an issue where a proposed school visit was to be charged £60. He knew that the Queens Hall in Watton accepted school parties free of charge and asked whether there were times when fees could be waived.
Mr Needham advised that there were two sides to every story and he did not wish to go into detail about individual cases. If Members heard a rumour or complaint he asked that they contact him direct.
Mr Burt advised that they preferred to keep consistency with charging. Instead of offering discounts they offered grants to groups that they wanted to encourage to use the Hall.
The Chairman asked how the Gallery and Bar were functioning and Mr Needham advised that it was a difficult space to fill because it was used by other Hall hirers to access the toilets, etc. The initial licensee had left and a new licensee had recently been found in partnership with Norfolk County Council. It would re-open again soon as a training project for adults with learning difficulties. Mr Burt added that the Town Council were actively promoting that area and had recently ratified an agreement to use it as an exhibition space.
Mrs Millbank passed out the Autumn/Winter brochure for Members’ information and Councillor Armes noted that there were no concessions for senior citizens. She also advised that in Thetford the Mayor had the right to allow three occasions of free use of their Hall by Charities. She asked if the same was true for Dereham.
Mrs Millbank said they did not have a similar scheme but now that they had heard about Thetford they would look into it.
Councillor Bambridge applauded the excellent job of refurbishing the Memorial Hall but was aware of various complaints about its functioning and also about the lack of youth events especially for the 15-18 and 18-25 age groups.
Mr Needham acknowledged that the number of youth events was low and said that the Town Council was looking at ways to improve that.
Councillor Kybird pointed out that the matter under consideration was whether the £250,000 grant had been a good use of money. It was not for the Commission to question the running of the Hall. He thought that the work had been high quality and had provided a good facility for the community.
Councillor Irving asked about the Cultural Strategy and Mr Needham said that the strategy was in place.
Councillor Richmond remembered the Hall in the 1960s and thought that it had been transformed. It was doing a good job and offered a varied range of activities at a very low cost per head of the community.
The Chairman asked Senior Officers for their comments and the Assistant Director for Commissioning responded. His name had been on the initial report to Cabinet requesting the grant. It had been the largest grant ever given for community use and had received full Cabinet approval. The terms and conditions of the grant had been satisfied. If there were concerns about the usage of the Hall they fell outside the scope of the original grant. As far as he was concerned the grant had been a success.
The Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development recalled that it had been a long debate at Cabinet as it had been considered a risky thing for the Council to do, but having seen the results he was satisfied that it had been the right decision. The conditions of the loan had been met in full and it was a good investment by the Council.
The Chairman had also been present at the Cabinet meeting and confirmed that it had been a detailed debate. Some of the concerns raised by the community could not be answered by the Commission and should be raised with Dereham Town Council and he urged the Town Council to respond to questions raised by the public. With regard to the loan, it had done what it said it would do. He thanked Mrs Millbank, Mr Birt and Mr Needham for their attendance.