The council hopes the move will address the under-use of Mole Hall in West Molesey (which is currently hired only 27% of the time) and provide a bigger community centre with enhanced kitchen and catering facilities, to meet the demand for Meals on Wheels and centre meals which has soared since the service was featured by TV chefs the Hairy Bikers.
The centre’s current home in School Road, East Molesey, cannot be developed due to lack of space, plus it is adjacent to Radnor House sheltered home, which is at the end of its natural life and is being closed by Elmbridge Housing Trust.
Councillor Christine Elmer, cabinet member for social affairs, said: “As a council we recognise that the Molesey Centre building no longer meets the requirements for a fully functioning ‘centre for the community’ and it is unable to offer the range that our other centres offer.“By creating a fit for purpose facility at Mole Hall there will be room to expand the Molesey Centre facility. Its visitors, volunteers and staff will be able to enjoy an exciting new home.”
Councillor Jan Fuller, the leisure portfolio holder, is also driving the project forward together with Cllr Elmer. She added: “By putting the day centre and Mole Hall together we are ensuring the future of both. We are trying to give the day centre a new lease of life, and offer Mole Hall’s present and future hirers a better facility.”
The council will install a retractable partition in the hall area so that day centre users can occupy one side on weekdays from 9am to 5pm, and hirers can use the other. In the evenings and at weekends the hall can extended to its full size.
Two windows will be added to the hall’s far wall in order to let in more natural light, and a new serving area and hatches will be created and the kitchen refurbished to meet all catering requirements. In the longer term Mole Hall could have an extension built on to the side so that additional classes can be offered to the community.
The council has also spent £40,000 on a new mini-bus to transport East Molesey residents to Mole Hall in the West, although Cllr Elmer said a large number of Molesey Centre users already come from West Molesey.
The plans have received cross-party support, including from Molesey councillors, but some Mole Hall hirers and residents remain opposed and have called for the Molesey Centre to be rebuilt next to Mole Hall rather than accommodated inside.
Cllrs Fuller and Elmer said this would be more expensive and would not address the problem of Mole Hall’s under usage. There is also a wish to model the considerable success at Thames Ditton of providing a Centre and hired hall under one roof.
Cllr Elmer has said publicly that plans are still being worked on and every effort will be made to ensure classes such as dancing and keep fit will continue at Mole Hall.
The council has promised to consult with users and listen to concerns, and has assured that ‘none of the details are set in stone’.