The race for space: Former industrial site is charity's £1.5m new home
- Credit: Liz Coates
A hangar-like warehouse is set to be repurposed as a charity's new home in a £1.5m project that has been 15 years in the making.
The coronavirus pandemic has amplified Centre 81's need for space with social distancing having to be factored in around a membership, 60pc of whom are wheelchair users, with many being classed as "vulnerable" too.
It means the 26,000sq ft at Yare House, the former Fugro base in Morton Peto Road, is only just big enough for the skills and activity centre that has outgrown cramped, mobile buildings in Great Yarmouth.
"There have been three serious landmarks in the charity's existence," the charity's chief executive Diana Staines said.
"The first was when it was set up in 1981, the second was in around 1998 when the trustees bought the Tarworks Road site, and this marks the next huge milestone."
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As Centre 81, a hub for physically disabled adults and those with a range of impairments, it will allow its members to move around freely in the way the able-bodied are used to, and enjoy cutting edge facilities.
Ms Staines, said it marked a whole new era for the charity which also runs a fleet of mini buses.
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In the next year she hopes the industrial building will become unrecognisable as a base for games, a gym, a dining area, a members' kitchen, barbecue patio, pamper area, and much more.
As well as having the space to grow and expand membership, it means being able to adapt quickly to new restrictions without having to close.
For Ms Staines it is also a personal triumph having declared in 2007 that the charity needed a new base and that she was going to find it.
What she loved most about the building was the big, bold statement it made.
"It does not say 'deprivation', or 'poverty', or 'this will do', as if we are of no consequence," she said.
""It is big and confident and modern."
Previously during the search she had viewed the site and discounted it as "too big and expensive". Then along came Covid and views on space changed.
Now she wonders if 26,000 sq ft is even enough.
The current site in Tarworks Road is sold and houses are already going up on part of it.
"This is so significant for Centre 81," she said. "We have been here for 40 years, but another 40 where we were just wasn't going to happen."
There were lots of opportunities to explore including the possibility of renting some upstairs space to other charities, she added.
The re-fit is like to be completed by next Spring at the earliest and will include the latest in tracking hoists.
The project has been paid for with grant funding and donations including from the National Lottery and the Local Enterprise Partnership, among others.
Centre 81 employs 39 paid staff, has 16 volunteers, and ten trustees.