North Walsham makes big bid for cash

FINGERS are crossed as North Walsham waits to hear this month whether it can go ahead with a �5.3m-plus building which would revolutionise services for children, young people and families in the town.

By ALEX HURRELL

alex.hurrell@archant.co.uk

FINGERS are crossed as North Walsham waits to hear this month whether it can go ahead with a �5.3m-plus building which would revolutionise services for children, young people and families in the town.


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If the 11th-hour bid is successful, the centre, described as "youth-owned and community-facing" would be up and running by September next year on North Walsham High School land, close to the Spenser Avenue sports centre.

Among a host of services, the two-storey centre would offer sexual health and contraception drop-in sessions, healthy meals and advice, training courses in the food business, indoor drama space seating up to 250 plus an outside amphitheatre for arts and sports use, parental support especially aimed at dads, help for the homeless, a caf�, recording studio, arts facilities and cr�che for centre users. The high school and town-based charity the Benjamin Foundation is behind the scheme, which has been given a working title of the Phoenix Centre.

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It is backed by Norfolk's director of children's services Lisa Christensen, North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb and bodies including Norfolk NHS, Poppyland Sure Start, North Norfolk District Council, the Griffon Area Partnership, and the police.

Supporters hope it would help combat local problems including low aspirations and childhood overweight and obesity rates in North Walsham of 30-36pc, which are double the regional rate for 10 and 11-year-olds.

Teen pregnancy rates in Norfolk are also continuing to rise, despite downward national and regional trends.

The bid was put together in a whirlwind fortnight last month by Laura Price, fundraising officer with the Benjamin Foundation. She said that just two weeks before the application deadline, high school governor Rebecca Lysaght had chanced across information about a �200m government pot available for up to 100 building projects nationwide which had to incorporate two or more services for the target groups.

Ms Price and others then raced to gather information, list services needed, draw up plans and cost the project to meet the bid cut-off date.

In March, the foundation's Big Lottery bid for a �3.5m arts and performance centre in North Walsham was unsuccessful and Ms Price said the charity saw the Phoenix Centre as a fantastic alternative opportunity to provide youth activities such as drama, dance and music in the town.

High school head Caroline Brooker said the centre would provide much-needed extra dining space for the school among other uses, and would help bring the wider community together.

"I just hope the people in London who make the decision realise the needs of rural communities like ours," she said. "It would be a huge benefit to North Walsham."

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