a) Rionach Aiken of Citizens Advice North Hertfordshire (CANH) congratulated those Members of the Committee who had been recently elected and thanked the Chairman and Committee for considering the grant application from CANH. She declared that they were hugely grateful for the support that had been provided by North Hertfordshire District core funding, court worker funding and premises provision, without which they would not be able to provide the services required. She explained that the application presented was for one-off costs which would give the organisation a solid foundation and a base to grow. The original application had been submitted to NHDC in December 2015, before significant budget cuts were announced, including the funds available to area committees. She declared that she was aware that budgets were now significantly tighter, and that any support that could be offered was very much appreciated.
Rionach Aiken clarified that the option of moving into Gernon Road had been pursued and twin-tracked with exploring options with the Heritage Foundation. There were obvious financial and partnership benefits that would outweigh any concerns around independence. She had met with David Charlton (Senior Estates Surveyor) several times since Autumn 2014 and had arranged a number of meetings with Andy Cavanagh (Head of Financial Services) from January 2015. These meetings were cancelled, as the Council had to prioritise their own needs. This continued throughout 2015 and by the time NHDC was able to offer anything tangible, the lease with the Heritage Foundation had already been signed. Rionach Aiken explained that the reason for moving their headquarters (HQ) was a creative response to challenging circumstances; the current base in Leys Avenue, Letchworth had always been too small, despite the organisation having been there for six years; client demand was rising - up 30% over the past few years and 20% in the last year; the rent increase facing them was 40% and the 3-year lease ended on 20 June 2016 while the number of volunteers was growing, i.e. a 40% increase in less than a year.
The impact of the current situation on the service offered was to limit appointment slots due to lack of interview rooms and many residents who needed support with disability benefits, financial capability or energy advice had to travel for appointments or wait up to two weeks for a local appointment. Approximately 40% of clients, most of whom were in employment, had experienced hardship as a result of fluctuating income. For those on low income this affected their benefits as well as their ability to manage their money and pay their bills. A Money Matters programme had been developed with volunteers, offering one-to-one support and group sessions on managing personal budgets to residents, clients and frontline workers. The energy advice project produced by CANH saved local residents around £300 per year and there was great demand for appointments from the community work done by CANH but they lacked space to deliver many appointments in Letchworth, the area of greatest need. Many group sessions were delivered in community settings.
The organisations aims and ambitions were to introduce a flexible model of advice-giving to reduce waiting times, improve outcomes for clients and maximize the volunteer resource. A range of self-help information resources had been created (both online and paper-based), to empower capable clients to help themselves so that the organisation could focus on those who required intensive support. This was seen as a model of good practice, but with additional space it would be possible to: introduce information assistants, an information area and digital resources (via tablets) to enable clients themselves to access information; extend the drop-in hours from weekday mornings to full days; and to see clients for full advice appointments immediately, rather than requiring them to come back within a week or two.
The Royston and District Committee was informed that in 2014/2015 over 1,000 calls had been answered and in 2015/2016 1,440 calls had been taken. However, demand for telephone advice was high and only 45% of callers were able to access a service. The CANHs aim was to respond to 2,000 calls per year by creating a dedicated Adviceline Room, doubling the telephone lines from three to six and training more telephone volunteers. This would enable the disabled, the employed, carers, the rural and housebound to access advice. In the future, it was intended to integrate web chat with their Adviceline provision in order to expand the channels available to clients and make the best use of volunteers.
Rionach Aiken stated that there were multiple benefits for Royston, as: demand was increasing, i.e. individual client numbers for 2015 were 5,400 - up 900 on the 2014/2015 levels; client contacts were up from 10,000 to 11,600 in less than a year; volunteer numbers had increased by 40% with good recruitment and retention. In addition, Royston clients were up 11% - 600 estimated individual local residents helped with 1,250 different issues through over 1,500 client contacts in 2015/2016. This had not included the 7,000 visits by 6,000 individuals to the CANH website. Benefits in 2015 included £220,000 in financial outcomes - £107,000 for Royston Meridian residents, £72,000 for Royston Palace, £40,000 for Royston Heath and £1,000 for Ermine Ward. Overall benefits in Royston were in line with the District average at 34% (of the top five issues) and a higher demand for Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance, often required by the elderly and disabled. Issues with Working and Child Tax Credit were higher than average at 19% of the top 10 benefit issues compared to 14% across the District. Debt issues in Royston were lower than average at 21% of the top five issues compared with 24% across North Hertfordshire. Where there were debt issues in the area, credit, store and charge card debts were over twice the District average of 9% at 21%. Relationship and family issues were higher than average at 18%, compared to 14% across the District. Housing issues with private rented sector housing at 53% were almost double North Hertfordshire levels of 27% of the top five issues and threatened homelessness was significantly lower at 15% in the Royston area, compared to the District average of 35%.
Regarding timescales, due to legal issues in early 2016 building work had started in March having been delayed by three weeks due to various issues with a 100-year-old building, although the budget had not been affected. The Committee was assured that everything was still on track for a completion date of 24 June 2016. Moving costs had gone up as it was now necessary to move from Letchworth to Hitchin and then back to Letchworth, with the cost of dilapidations higher than expected. A confirmed sum of £140,000 had been raised out of the £172,000 now required, with £32,000 still required plus the cost of any additional equipment.
Rionach Aiken thanked the Committee for their attention and declared that any support offered would be much appreciated. The Chairman invited the Committee to voice any queries or comments they may have on this grant application. A Member asked how many days per week the CANH was in Royston and was told 2 days, as the main CANH sites were in Letchworth and Hitchin. One Member commented that the amount contributed to CANH from all five Area Committees totalled £20,000. The Chairman thanked Rionach Aiken for her presentation and her hard work for the people of Royston and explained that the grant application would be considered later on in the Meeting.
b) Di Charles of Corvus Cornix Basketball Club explained that the organisation was set up in 1970 for boys and girls under the age of 17 and the 80 players came from the whole of North Hertfordshire. The amount requested was to help with the costs for running a series of training sessions and competitive matches to be held at Royston Leisure Centre on four Sunday afternoons in October, November, February and March. She reminded Members that basketball is a growing sport in Royston and is played indoors.
The Chairman stated that this grant application ticked the boxes for public health, youth sporting activities etc. She thanked Di Charles for her presentation and her hard work for the people of Royston and stated that the grant application would be considered later in the Committee Meeting.
c) Carl Filby representing Creative Royston (formerly Royston Arts Festival) addressed the Royston and District Committee. He said that he knew that the Members were familiar with the Royston Arts Festival and reminded them that the 2015 Arts Festival had also included the Annual Report and the Annual General Meeting (AGM). 4,000 people had visited the Festival, but exhibitions alone did not create the atmosphere. He revealed that applications to the Arts Council for funding were not worth the great effort put in, due to the lack of Arts Council funding available. This years Festival would run from 23 to 25 September and funding was required to assist with the production and distribution of 18,500 Festival programmes which would be delivered to all households in Royston and the surrounding villages. Creative Royston themselves were contributing £3,300 to the cost from their own reserves. The Festival workshops had been moved from Royston schools to Royston Town Centre. Carl Filby invited the Royston and District Committee to ask any questions they may have. In response to queries, he confirmed that the programme was currently in production and that flyers for the event would be available in the usual shops and retail outlets and also at the Royston Open Secrets event. The Chairman thanked Carl Filby for his presentation and his hard work for the people of Royston and stated that the grant application would be considered later in the Meeting.
d) Brian Whittaker of the Rotary Club of Royston (RCR) thanked the Chairman for the opportunity to address the Committee. He explained that his role in the RCR was that of Youth Activities Chairman and as Members were aware, the RCR organised and ran two major youth challenges each year for young people, firstly the Design and Technology Challenge, which was run with limited tools and equipment and whose aim was to develop team building skills as well as suitable performances. Schools were not charged for entering a team. The second event run annually by RCR was Youth Makes Music, which showcased Roystons young musical talent with some impressive performances. A small ticket charge was made to parents and families to cover the hire of venues, to pay for transport etc. A Member commented that the organisation was very well known and respected and the Chairman thanked Brian Whittaker for his presentation and his hard work for the people of Royston, adding that the grant application relating to this presentation would be considered later in the Meeting.
e) Denise Graham of the Royston Volunteer Centre (RVC) informed the Royston and District Committee that enquiries had seen an increase of 35% and therefore a contribution to running costs was necessary. She declared that volunteers were the lifeblood of delivering front line services and that they wanted to help in identified roles that had been advertised and promoted. They needed to be valued and gave their time free, but still had to be managed and trained. Denise Graham was delighted to announce that the prestigious White Rose Volunteer Centre Accreditation had been awarded to the Royston Volunteer Centre.
Member discussion raised the question of whether volunteer centres formed a national network, and they were informed that they did, but that all volunteer centres were separate. In 2015 a total of 700 volunteers were placed.
The Chairman thanked Denise Graham for her presentation and her hard work for the people of Royston and informed her that she gave the volunteers the confidence to find work. This was endorsed by the other organisations present at this Royston and District Committee Meeting.
f) Paul Brown, Treasurer of the Royston and District Town Twinning Association addressed the Committee and explained that the organisation was seeking funding support from them to assist with transport costs and venue hire costs for their impending visit from the German twin town of Gro▀almerode. He explained the function of the Association - visits and trips to each other, alternating for each twin town: La Loupe in France, Gro▀almerode in Germany and Villanueva de la Ca˝ada in Spain. There are 75 members of the R&DTTA in Royston and 46 visitors from La Loupe in France had visited Royston in 2015, while 29 members of the R&DTTA had visited La Loupe in the same year. The Royston Town Band and a sports club had also carried out exchanges and schools and young people had exchanged with France and Spain. Costs were normally borne by the hosts - visits cost in the region of £1,000 a time, for which fundraising was carried out and grant applications made.
The Chairman thanked Mr. Brown for his presentation to the Committee and his hard work for the people of Royston. A Member enquired whether they had received any grants from Royston Town Council (RTC). He was informed that RTC had not offered monetary assistance but helped in other ways, and this was explained by the Leader of Royston Town Council at the Chairmans request. Another Member made an enquiry regarding visits made to and from Royston and the twin towns and Paul Brown promised him an official rota of the visits planned.
1) That Rionach Aiken of Citizens Advice Bureau North Herts be thanked for her presentation to the Royston and District Committee and that the grant application relating to Citizens Advice Bureau North Herts be considered later on the Agenda (see Minute 20 below);
2) That Di Charles representing Corvus Cornix Basketball Club be thanked for her presentation to the Royston and District Committee and that the grant application relating to the Corvus Cornix Basketball Club be considered later on the Agenda (see Minute 13 below);
3) That Carl Filby of Creative Royston be thanked for his presentation to the Royston and District Committee and that the grant application relating to the Royston Arts Festival be considered later on the Agenda (see Minute 15 below);
4) That Brian Whittaker of the Rotary Club of Royston be thanked for his presentation to the Royston and District Committee and that the grant application relating to the Rotary Club of Royston be considered later on the Agenda (see Minute 17 below);
5) That Denise Graham of the Royston and District Volunteer Centre be thanked for her presentation to the Royston and District Committee and that the grant application relating to the Royston and District Volunteer Centre be considered later on the Agenda (see Minute 16 below);
6) That Paul Brown of the Royston and District Town Twinning Association be thanked for his presentation to the Royston and District Committee and that the grant application relating to the Royston and District Town Twinning Association be considered later on the Agenda (see Minute 18 below).