Hitchin Committee Minutes

Tuesday, 6th December, 2016
Mountford Hall, Hitchin Town Hall, Brand Street, Hitchin

Attendance Details

Councillor Judi Billing (Chairman), Councillor Nicola Harris (Vice-Chairman), Councillor Ian Albert, Councillor Elizabeth Dennis, Councillor Simon Harwood, Councillor Frank Radcliffe and Councillor Martin Stears - Handscomb.

N.B. Councillor Nicola Harris arrived at 7.41p.m. due to supporting someone who was unwell.
In attendance:
Steve Crowley (Contracts and Project Manager), Claire Morgan (Communities Officer), and Hilary Dineen (Committee and Member Services Officer).
Also Present:
At the start of the meeting 19 members of the public.
Item Description/Decision
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Allison Ashley, Paul Clark, Bernard Lovewell, Alan Millard, Adrian Smith and Richard Thake.
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the Meeting of the Committee held on 6 September 2016 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and be signed by the Chairman.
No other business had been notified.
(1) The Chairman thanked all who had attended Town Talk and this meeting, particularly those who had attended to give a presentation;

(2) The Chairman welcomed Councilor Martin Stears - Handscomb back to the Hitchin Committee;

(3) The Chairman informed those present that, in accordance with Council Policy the meeting would be audio recorded;

(4) The Chairman drew attention to the item on the agenda front pages regarding Declarations of Interest and reminded Members that, in line with the Code of Conduct, any Declarations of Interest needed to be declared immediately prior to the item in question.
Mr Joe Heeney, Resolve, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a presentation regarding their grant application.

Mr Heeney informed Members that Resolve was a structured drug and alcohol treatment service. The service was started in Welwyn Garden City in 2008 and the project at Westmill Community Centre was started following an invitation to take part in a Community Engagement event in 2015.

Resolve had now moved into and operated from the new Westmill Community Centre. The project was successful with people attending on a regular basis. They had capability to help more people and were working on getting their information out to as many people as possible.

They had well established links with the local Police, Community Safety Partnership, anti-social Behaviour teams, GPs and housing trusts to mane a few and were now receiving referrals from the statutory drug and alcohol services.

Resolve received no statutory funding and had to raise all money for itself. They had received a start up grant from the Big Lottery, on which the service was currently operating with mainly volunteer staff.

They were applying for funding to purchase the necessary resources to operate from Westmill and move into the next phase, including furniture and IT equipment.

Members acknowledged that it was sometimes difficult for a community to have people with drug problems in the area and asked how they would deal with any problems that may occur.

Mr Heeney advised that there had been some concerns raised, but that sometimes perception of problems were more than the reality. Resolve was abstinence based service and was very strict about no drug or alcohol use in or around the service. He had spoken to local residents about the service and they were very supportive.

The Chairman thanked Mr Heeney for his presentation.
Ms Romena Whitelock, Smartys Day Nursery, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation regarding their grant application.

Ms Whitelock advised Members that Smartys was a charity day nursery that wasn’t part of a chain, but was self funding with the fees paid by the parents being reinvested into the nursery.

There was a major need for an increase in capacity and to help meet that need they built an extension built to accommodate pre-school children aged 3-5 years. There had been some setbacks with the extension in that funding from the County Council was withdrawn and additional works were required to provide disabled facilities, which added to the cost.

Some of the County Councillors had given grant funding from their Locality Budgets, but they needed funding to support the future work of the nursery, hence the application for grant funding being considered at this meeting.

The nursery had undertaken a lot of fundraising including a “go funding” page, a sponsored walk and a Christmas Fayre.

The Management Committee members were all voluntary and the nursery was community based. The extension had also enabled them to work alongside the Children’s Centre in Oughton and offer them space for weekend classes.

Some Members advised that they had visited the nursery to see the work that they did and were grateful for the service.

The Chairman thanked Ms Whitelock for her presentation.
Mrs Thelma Levy, African & Caribbean Seniors and Carers Luncheon Club, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation regarding their grant application.

Mrs Levy informed the Committee that the Club started in 2000 and provided respite for carers and senior citizens. There were 55 members aged between 60 and 92 years.

The grant application was for support funding towards the costs of the seated exercise classes which took place each Friday and was run by a certified physiotherapist. The classes aimed to strengthen muscles, which helped the participants to reduce the risk of falling, reduced visits to physiotherapists and enabled them to take a more active part in their day to day lives.

Members paid for their lunch when attending and they had recently introduced a £1 fee for the exercise classes.

Members asked when and where the classes were held and whether they received any financial support through health funding.

Mrs Levy advised that they were held for one hour every Friday at the Westmill Centre and that this was a seated exercise class as most of the Members were either wheelchair users or used walking aids.

The Chairman thanked Mrs Levy for her presentation.
Ms Erica Lang, Ms Hazel Beadle, 8th Hitchin Oughton Scouts, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a PowerPoint presentation regarding their grant application.

Ms Lang informed Members that the 8th Hitchin Oughton Scout Group was 2 years old and served one of the most disadvantaged areas of Hitchin. They met week at the local school, with which they had a good relationship.

The Scout Group enables children and young people to have new experiences, enjoy the outdoors, to meet others and interact and therefore grow in confidence, reach their full potential and contribute to their community.

The Group had always been active outdoors, but they now had a specific aim that 50 percent of the activities were out of doors. To achieve this a list of camping equipment had been drawn up, which enable participation in expedition challenges, outdoor activities, county competitions and fundraising by using a tent as a base for a tea stall.

A bid for grant funding had been made to Hitchin Youth Trust for the whole amount and they received £700. Fundraising was going well and they had been selected for Waitrose Community Matters.

Naresh, representing the Beavers, told Members that they had been litter picking, which helped the community and they learnt new things by doing different activities every week. Camping was one his favourite things and he had achieved his disability badge. They had also planted flowers at the community centre, been on a hike in the dark, made a Christmas tree at the Christmas Tree Festival and had a sleepover at the village hall. He said that Beavers was brilliant.

Natasha, a Scout, told Members that she liked camping because they worked as a team, she liked cooking the meals they were going to eat. The activities were useful as it helped them to learn. She said that she liked Scouts because she got to do fun things like games, camps and cooking which made them more independent and more responsible.

Bailey, a Cub, told Members that they learnt new skills like fire lighting.

Ms Beadle, Group Scout Leader, informed Members that Beavers started about 4 years ago and, despite being told they would be unlikely to last 1 year, the group was still going and growing, which was a great testament to the children, leaders and parents.

Members asked how the Group would further engage with the Oughton community.
Ms Beadle advised that they had started to work with the Community Centre Manager, who had asked them to take over management of the flower beds. This was started a few weeks ago with a large amount of planting of bulbs and plants. They had also undertaken litter picking each year. One of the roles was to nurture the parents as well as the children.

The Chairman thanked Ms Lang, Ms Beadle and the young people for their presentation and congratulated the young representatives for their contribution.
Mrs Lynne Misner, Small Acts of Kindness, thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee and gave a verbal presentation in support of their application for grant funding.

Mrs Misner informed Members that more than 30,000 of the 130,000 people living in North Herts were aged over 60, with 1,400 being aged over 90, which was the highest number in any District throughout Hertfordshire.

In the cold winter months many of these old people struggled to keep warm in their homes and were very often faced with the stark choice between heating their homes and eating.

Being cold increased the risk of high blood pressure with the resulting risks of stoke and heart attack and could have a negative effect on mental wellbeing.

Health professionals recommended that people who ere cold in their home, wrap themselves in blanket, protect their extremities and drink plenty of hot drinks.

The Warm in Winter gift bags contained all of those items to help an older person keep warm including a large fleecy blanket, a thermal hat, socks, gloves, a mug and a selection of hot drinks.

The project was launched in 2014 at which time 60 gift bags were distributed, last winter this had risen to 800, of which 168 were delivered to residents of North Herts by North Hers CVS and Herts Independent Living Service.

At that time there was no direct funding to deliver gift bags within North Herts, as most funding received was geographically restricted.

Small Acts of Kindness worked in partnership with care providers including Herts Healthy Homes, Age UK and Hertfordshire Independent Living Service who identified and refer their older clients who were potential at risk from the effects of the cold. This partnership working enabled intervention and prevention before the effects of the cold reached crisis point.

So far this winter they had received requests for 377 warm and winter gift bags in North Herts. So far they had distributed a total of 1,500 Warm in Winter gift bags as well as 300 Celebrate Christmas gift bags for those who would be spending Christmas alone.

Small Acts of kindness expected to give a total of 500 Warm in Winter gift bags in North Herts this winter with each one costing £15. The project was run entirely by volunteers to try to ensure that as many older people in need as possible receive a gift bag.

Currently funding was received via grants from Local Councils, Trusts and Foundations and donations from businesses, individuals and County Councillors. The plan for future sustainability of the project included the launch, in the spring of the 100 club, with the aim of getting 100 businesses to give £100 per month and the application for lottery awards.

The Chairman thanked Mrs Misner for her presentation.
The Communities Officer presented the report of the Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance entitles Grants and Community Update and drew attention to the following:

The Communities Officer advised that the comments in the report regarding Charnwood House had been provided by the Senior Estates Surveyor.

Members were concerned that there did not now appear to be any plans for future use of the building when previously it had been stated that the building would be declared as surplus. They felt that this was an important building and that the community should be consulted about how it could be best used for the benefit of Hitchin and North Herts residents.

They were disappointed that a prominently situated community building was being used for storage and were concerned that the building had been and would continue to be properly maintained so that it was in a good state of repair when it did become available for community use

It was proposed and seconded that complete information regarding intended future use, together with the maintenance history and current maintenance and repair work required be emailed to every member of this Committee.

The Communities Officer advised Members that the banner used during Community Surgeries was looking very tired and was peeling. She advised that a replacement banner would cost £60 and asked that this be taken from the Discretionary Budget.

It was proposed and seconded that grant funding of £60 be awarded from the Discretionary Budget towards the purchase of a banner advertising the Community Surgeries.


(1) That the budgetary expenditure, balances and carry forwards from the Development Ward Budgets as set out in Appendix A - Hitchin Area Committee budget for 2016/17 be noted;

(2) That the Committee endorses the actions taken by the Community Officer to promote greater community capacity and well-being for Hitchin;

(3) That the Senior Estates Surveyor be requested to email all Members of the Committee with the planned future usage of Charnwood house together with details of the repair and maintenance work undertaken on Charnwood House in the last 3 years and the maintenance and repair work outstanding in order to keep the building in a good state of repair and associated costs;

(4) That grant funding of £60 be awarded from the 2016/17 Discretionary Budget as funding towards the cost of purchasing a new banner for use at Community Surgeries.

REASON FOR DECISION: To keep Members of the Committee apprised of the latest developments in community activities in Hitchin.
A Member asked for clarification regarding whether the application for £1,274 was to be reduced to take into account benefits in kind such as the proposed donation of furniture or whether this was for a cash sum in addition to any benefits in kind.

The Communities Officer advised that the amount applied for did not include any benefits in kind, if they did receive any furniture or other equipment this would be in addition to the proposed amount.

RESOLVED: That grant funding of £1,274 be awarded to Resolve from the 2015/16 Discretionary Budget as funding towards the cost of resources required to deliver a structured drug and alcohol day treatment service from Westmill Community Centre.

REASON FOR DECISION: To improve services provided by local organisations and groups which are accessed by the community.
The Communities Officer advised that the application was for grant funding towards the cost of providing the disabled access elements of the extension with the total cost being £4,033.

There was a Capital Visioning budget of £4,583 which had not been used for many years. As this was a capital cost, any grant award could be taken from this budget.

Members were supportive of the proposal and it was proposed and seconded that Smartys Day Nursery be awarded a grant of £4,583 to be taken from the Capital Visioning budget.

RESOLVED: That grant funding of £4,583 be awarded to Smartys Day Nursery from the Capital Visioning Budget as funding towards the cost of providing the disabled access elements of the extension project.

REASON FOR DECISION: To improve services provided by local organisations and groups which are accessed by the community
The Communities Officer reminded Members that the Club met weekly on a Friday at Westmill Community Centre.

The strength and stability classes were very useful for older people with mobility problems, these had previously been provide free of charge as members paid for their lunch and travel to and from the club.

Members of the Club travelled from all over Hitchin to attend and because it was aimed at the African and Caribbean community, the exercise classes used music that members would enjoy.

Members were supportive of this project and acknowledged the benefits of taking part in the classes.

RESOLVED: That grant funding of £1,000 be awarded to the African & Caribbean Seniors and Carers Luncheon Club from the 2015/16 Discretionary Budget as funding towards the cost of providing seated keep fit classes for 24 months.

REASON FOR DECISION: To improve services provided by local organisations and groups which are accessed by the community.
RESOLVED: That grant funding of £1,086 be awarded to the 8th Hitchin Oughton Scout Group from the 2015/16 Discretionary Budget as funding towards the cost of camping equipment to provide outdoor activities.

REASON FOR DECISION: To improve services provided by local organisations and groups which are accessed by the community.
The Communities Officer reminded Members that Small Acts of Kindness provided gift bags to older isolated people.

Applications for grant funding, for this organisation, had been made to every Area Committee and had so far been successful in receiving funding from Baldock and District, Royston and District and Southern Rural Area Committees.

RESOLVED: That grant funding of £600 be awarded to Small Acts of Kindness from the 2015/16 Discretionary Budget as funding towards the cost of purchasing and distributing approximately 200 Warm in Winter gift bags to older people.

REASON FOR DECISION: To improve services provided by local organisations and groups which are accessed by the community.
The Committee received an information note entitled Review of the Green Space Management Strategy.

Members were concerned at the recommendations to remove play equipment from areas in Hitchin, particularly the small play areas, some of which were developed by the community in partnership with the Council.

They noted a change in demographics of the people using the play areas, which when they were first developed were used by parents bringing their children and now are used by grandparents and child minders and commented on the requirement for child minders to demonstrate the ability to provide acceptable outdoor play.

Members acknowledged concerns about reducing childhood obesity and the part these playgrounds play in that and felt that an impact assessment should be undertaken regarding these issues and the effect closure of playgrounds could have on the health of children and the costs to the NHS in treating those health issues.

They felt that playgrounds were a vital part of children’s health and wellbeing and that splash parks, although wonderful, were not a replacement as they were not open all year round.

Members felt that the survey was carried out after a decision had been taken and wondered if any previous surveys had been undertaken that may give a more balanced outcome, There was also concern that the survey may have been carried out at a time when most children would have been undertaking other activities, for instance, if it were a hot day, they may well have been attending one of the swimming pools or splash parks.

There were also concerned that some play areas were under used purely because the equipment had become tardy and therefore people did not want to use them but had they been maintained, would be more used.
It was noted that recommendation 2 had been amended to consider opportunities for assets to be transferred into community ownership and Members felt that the consultation period was not long enough for communities to consider whether they could be involved and investigate whether funding would be available.

Members were deeply concerned about the timing of the consultation, which was mainly over the Christmas and New Year period when families would be fully occupied and would not be involved in responding to consultations.

Members did believe that focus groups and citizens panels were valuable, but were not a substitute for effective consultation with residents and that those consultations should be well publicised.

Members commented that the costs associated with the proposed removal of equipment had not been made clear.


(1) That enquiries be made as to any previous surveys undertaken regarding use of playgrounds in order to provide a more balanced outcome;

(2) That the consultation period be extended in order to enable communities to consider whether they would be in a position to consider taking on ownership of assets;

(3) That the consultation period be moved to start after the Christmas and New Year festivities and holidays were over;

(4) That citizens panels and focus groups not be used as a replacement for effective consultation with residents;

(5) That consultations should be well publicised by different methods;

(6) That an impact assessment should be undertaken regarding childhood obesity and the effect closure of playgrounds could have on the health of children and the costs to the NHS in treating those health issues.

REASON FOR DECISION: To inform Cabinet of the concerns of the Hitchin Committee regarding the proposals contained in the Green Space Strategy.
The Committee received and information note entitled North Hertfordshire Museum and Community Facility at Hitchin Town Hall.

The Contracts and Projects Manager advised that in the information note gave an overview of the background regarding 14/15 Brand Street.

Currently the museum fit out was being undertaken and photographs were tabled showing the progress being made on the work in the main galleries. Once this work had been completed, work would start on the central gallery and the aim was to complete this by the end of February 2017.

The first exhibition, Pirates, Pants and Wellyphants, was currently taking place in the Lucas Room, including a book signing by Nick Sharrat which was a fantastic event, especially for youngsters.

All Members would receive an email invitation to tour the museum in early 2017.

In respect of the Town Hall, lots of events had taken or were about to be taking place including:
Tea dances on the second Sunday monthly;
Wedding parties for up to 150 guests with 3 course meals;
Comedy evening with Russell Kane as part of the Hitchin Festival;
Alan Titchmarsh Book signing;
Hitchin Fencing Club meeting every Monday;
Zumba Classes;
Yoga Classes;
Professional boxing match;
Divali celebration;
Christmas parties;
Live music.

These all demonstrated how the hall could be used for many varied types of event.

Members asked for an update regarding 14/15 Brand Street and the proposed café and queried whether there were any outstanding issues with the building owned by NHDC regarding disability access.

The Projects and Contract Manger advised that meetings had taken place with Hitchin Town Hall Ltd, but he was not party to these and therefore could not give any update.

In respect of the café, his recommendation was that this not be opened until the final position regarding 14/15 Brand Street was determined as without the full use of the building there would be insufficient footfall.

Currently the building did not have disabled access upstairs as the only lift was on the land of 14/15 Brand Street. This would be one of the issues included in the options appraisal for Council to consider.

A Member commented that she had gleaned from papers, previously released by Hitchin Town Hall Ltd, that they would allow use of the lift by disabled visitors.

The Projects and Contract Manager confirmed that that was the information given to the press by Hitchin Town Hall Ltd, but he was unable to comment further.

Members praised the work undertaken by staff to get the facility moving forward and acknowledged the frustration regarding being delayed, particularly for the museum staff.
The Chairman advised that Mr Keith Hoskins, Hitchin Town Centre Manager, was unable to attend this evening due to a previous engagement.
Councillor Simon Harwood reminded Members of the £1 million over 4 years Capital Fund for Community Facilities and mentioned that groups should submit any applications for funding as soon as possible.

Councillor Elizabeth Dennis advised that the deadline for lease negotiations regarding St Michael’s Community Centre had now passed and the future remained uncertain, although work was continuing to find a way forward. She informed Members that a report regarding this Community Centre lease would be considered by Cabinet on 20 December 2016.

Councillor Billing advised that the 20 MPH Zones on 25 streets in Bearton Ward were progressing. The signs were currently being made.
RESOLVED: That the following items be included in the list for discussion at future meetings of this Committee:
(i) Update on Charnwood House - Details of maintenance carried out by NHDC in recent years;
(ii) North Hertfordshire Museum Update;
(iii) Car Park Strategy for Hitchin - request that the Executive Member attend the meeting of this Committee due to be held in March 2017;
(iv) Update on the Green Space Strategy - the decisions made by Council on 20 December 2016.
Published on Thursday, 19th January, 2017