The following document was submitted to Norfolk County Council in 2012 for their consideration:

The Future of the Silver Rooms

Background:

The discussions on the future of the Silver Rooms are now some 2.5 years old. They are located in one of the most economically deprived areas of the city and the issue has achieved a high profile both locally and nationally. We argued at the beginning that were threats to the closure of the day centre and subsequently during many discussions there has been an agreement to move those who use the day centre to other venues. This we believe is likely to be achieved in the next month or so with the agreement of the users. Early on we took up the position that the centre should not close and could be transferred into use as a community centre or hub. We were partly stimulated by the concept of the Big Society which for us meant the centre would be run and managed by the community for the community, both in the short term and the long term. In a world which is now dominated by the terminology of cuts and the devolvement of power from local councils to the communities, we believe we are in a strong position to initiate the transfer of ownership to the community here at the Silver Rooms.

The building has been examined by architects who have advised us about the requirements and costs to bring the building up to a high standard. The money, of course, to do these repairs would come after transference to the community from the financial programme of the new management. The County Council has acknowledged that the building is surplus to requirements. The Open Days which have been held have been extremely well supported and some 30-40 groups are interested in both the use of and development of the centre. They come from that part of the city and populations a few miles away.

We address the problem of evaluating the advantages to the Council both financial and social and environmental later in this document. We believe however that this is the spirit of the age and given the difficulties in providing statutory services by Councils this particular project offers in the long term advantages in these areas.

Request:

We request that you transfer the ownership of the Silver Rooms at no cost to the registered charity Friends of the Silver Rooms. The latter agree to establish a solid professional governance of the centre involving trustees from local businesses, local charities and the local community. A manager who controls the day to day administration of the centre working within the strategies and policies of the trustees is an essential requirement. This would be set up within weeks of the transfer of ownership.

To allow you to do this we refer you to general disposal consent document (2003) within the ‘Local Government Act of 1972 for less than the best consideration that can reasonably be contained’. This document is not replaced by the localism bill from our discussions with the Department of Local Government under the local social enterprise unit The Guild. We enclose the circular provided from the website of the Department.

Political arguments:

The central government as you will be aware, is determined to move responsibility for delivery of statutory services to charities, voluntary groups or private services and away from councils. Essential in this is convincing the council that anyone who takes over the responsibility has robust governance, activates financial responsibility and has harnessed widespread community support. We feel we tick these boxes and that there is a great need for the delivery of services in this part of Norwich and the adjacent populations. When it comes to responsible financial governance we have found it difficult to attain completely accurate council expenditure in the areas where we have identified community interest. At the same time we have researched the potential financial benefits of taking some of these services into our charitable initiative.

For example, some of the areas in which we are determined to provide a service involve the elderly including people with dementia, schoolchildren, pre-school children, educational events for adults etc as well as recreational facilities for the whole community, including a café which will have an international dimension. Following the open days we have had expressions of interest from lesbian, gay and bi-sexual groups and economic migrants who live in the area are seriously interested in supporting the enterprise. Currently we feel a six to seven day service could be provided within the centre.

The County Council will be aware of the arguments for community activities for older people and how prevention of social and health problems can be met through community services. This has been very clearly described in a document from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence where it recommends how to improve the health and well-being for older people. The Wanless Review of 2004 identified the needs in social care for adults and included health, mobility, stress on carers, poor housing and environment, loneliness, fear of crime and so on. This has led of course to a huge increase in the spending by Social Services and we feel we could tackle much of this in a community centre. Wanless says that spending on community services buys additional days for people in the community before an institutional care solution becomes the only choice for them.

Traditional cost-benefit analysis has been applied to care and elderly service settings. The conclusions are disappointing and illustrate that there is a shortage of robust evidence for the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of interventions to improve the well-being of older people. This does not contradict however the evidence that mixed exercise programmes has effects on the well-being of the elderly particularly when they are community based. The act of calculating social return on investment (SROI) has grown out of the underlying model of cost benefit analysis but includes grounded, stakeholder, practice and policy informed judgements on the non-financial value of health and social results for all the stakeholders involved – not just the state or the investor. This gives a more rounded picture of the benefits of any one project. The methodology on SROI is still developing and still leaves us in the dark on clear guidance for the values they assert. We have further followed up capacity-building funds and social investment on return networks and they fall short from the robust analysis that is required to evaluate community services. Where there is any good data it has been argued that for every pound spend in costs of running clubs for the elderly there is an equivalent of £1.40 in health benefits in relation to quality of life assessments.

Other areas where we would be advancing both the council’s objectives and our own would be with young people, and similarly the financial benefits have not yet been calculated to our satisfaction. What is clear, however, is that individuals and organisations will pay for the use of the centre and services and this will make the centre financially viable. We will also develop a fundraising programme.

Conclusion:

We believe that by giving us the centre we can promote greater well-being for the whole community and develop social and environmental improvements with other groups who use the centre, indeed across the whole community spectrum. The financial implications and advantages of these initiatives are only currently starting to emerge but we believe that community activities and interactions are the way forward to improve the quality of people’s lives in this area of Norfolk. Perhaps we should also point out that we do not see the Silver Rooms as creating precedence for other projects, since we have always considered this centre as part of the general policy operated by the County Council for day centres.

 

Ian Gibson