In 2013 Thetford Town Council commissioned Robert to lead a project to convert the redundant Charles Burrell High School campus into a community cooperative. The buildings were empty and unused, yet situated in a part of town desperate for community space.
Robert took local Councillors to visit other former school s to see what was possible. With support from Coops UK various legal structures were explore and most importantly of all, a business plan was created to show how the project could become self sustaining.
Now, almost three years later Charles Burrell Centre is a thriving business and community Thirty-two tenants now sub-lease areas of the centre creating a network of commercial businesses, charities and community groups including a foodbank, a call centre, a recruitment centre, two fitness studios, two pre-school nurseries, Hertz car rental and several small local businesses.
The centre is also home to a new branch of West Suffolk College and offers over two hundred courses in higher education which is having a significant impact on the lives of local residents.
The centre is now financially independent and has seven employees and a team of volunteers that help with events, cleaning, maintenance and the general operations of the site.
The centre also works in partnership with Jobcentre Plus and Seetec by offering structured work experience placements to improve social and work based skills. These programmes have helped a number of people find their way back into employment and have also given them the confidence to achieve their goals.
The venture is now profitable, generating small surpluses which are reinvested into improving the facilities. With the site now 90% occupied the team are starting to look towards bigger projects such as refurbishing the tennis courts, parking areas and the currently empty swimming pool.