Thetford, a small market town in rural Norfolk, is rich in history and environmental assets, made famous as it was the filming location for the popular ‘Dad’s Army’ TV series, which often brings tourists along to the town. However much of Thetford sits within the top 10% most deprived in the UK, wages are low and skills attainment is a particular issue for local people. Most jobs opportunities locally are low skilled and low paid, with agriculture and manufacturing jobs dominating. Transport is also tricky, with the nearest city Norwich being 30 miles away, leaving many residents disconnected and far from employment opportunities.
This gap intensified when the local population increased dramatically in the 50s and 60s, with London overspill turning Thetford from a sleepy 4,000 strong market town to near 30,000. Immigration to the area has also seen an increase too, with many residents from Portugal and Eastern Europe, which has increased tensions over an already scare job and resource market.
That’s why the aim of Charles Burrell Centre has always been about creating opportunities through jobs, support for local businesses and developing valuable skills. Formerly a school for over 50 years, the Charles Burrell Centre is a well-known and loved location. When local people, including many ex-students, heard the site was due to be demolished in 2013, they rallied together and lobbied Norfolk County Council to make the site available for community use. They successfully secured a 30-year lease in 2014 and since its 85,000 square feet of space has accommodated 40 organisations, playing fields and tennis courts and welcomed local people.
Power to Change awarded a £112,500 grant to transform unused and unoccupied parts of the old school building, including former changing rooms and library, into small affordable rentable units for local businesses. This will increase the range of employment opportunities in the local area and increase the income of the business. Since the refurbishment, the number of bookings for the main hall have significantly increased, and the centre also managed to raise £2,500 through their innovative idea of sponsoring a chair.
Making a difference to real people
The Charles Burrell Centre aims to make a real difference by creating employment and skills opportunities for local people. It is estimated that over 100 jobs have been created or ring fenced to the centre and its tenants, and over 400 adults have completed courses in higher education since the centre opened.
On top of this, the centre offers valuable services to those who are feeling the effects of poverty. The Thetford Toy Library offers a low-cost toy loan service for local families and daily low cost stay and play sessions for parents, and there is a foodbank on site, meeting rising demand in the local area.
You can become a member at the centre for £1. This membership allows everyone in the community a vote to elect their board of directors at the AGM, making sure there are always three representatives from the local Town Council, three tenant representatives and three people appointed with specific skills and local community representatives.