The race for space: Former industrial site is charity's £1.5m new home

Centre 81 at the former Fugro site in Great Yarmouth

Diane Staines, chief executive of Centre 81, and her dog Ben explore the former Fugro site the charity has just completed on. The main industrial area will be converted to a skills and activities hub for disabled people. - 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.

Centre 81 at the former Fugro site in Morton Peto Road Great Yarmouth

The former Fugro site is being converted into a base for growing charity Centre 81 in Great Yarmouth which is 40 years old. - Credit: Liz Coates

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."

Diana Staines of Centre 81 in Great Yarmouth with the keys to the Fugro building.

Diana Staines with the keys to the former Fugro building, which over the next year will be transformed into a new home for Centre 81. - Credit: Centre 81

As Fugro the base was home to around 200 staff with workshops, offices, and meeting rooms.


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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.

Centre 81 at the former Fugro site in Morton Peto Road Great Yarmouth

The former Fugro building was initially thought to be too big for Centre 81 but then along came Covid and ideas about space changed. - Credit: Liz Coates

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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."

Centre 81 at the former Fugro site in Morton Peto Road Great Yarmouth

There is plenty of parking for members and Centre 81's fleet of mini buses at its new base in the former Fugro building in Morton Peto Road. - Credit: Liz Coates

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.

Centre 81 at the former Fugro site in Morton Peto Road Great Yarmouth

The former Fugro site in Morton Peto Road Great Yarmouth has been sold the Centre 81. - Credit: Liz Coates

"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.

Centre 81 at the former Fugro site in Morton Peto Road Great Yarmouth

There will soon be a warm reception at the former Fugro building for Centre 81 members and staff when a refit is completed probably by the summer in 2022. - Credit: Liz Coates

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.

Centre 81 at the former Fugro site in Morton Peto Road Great Yarmouth

The former Fugro site seemed too big for Centre 81 at first, but then along came Coronavirus and suddenly space was all that everyone wanted. - Credit: Liz Coates

Centre 81 at the former Fugro site in Morton Peto Road Great Yarmouth

Diana Staines has a vision for the former Fugro site in Morton Peto Road which is being converted into Centre 81's new home. - Credit: Liz Coates


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