Award winning Mildenhall Hub positive progress recognised

16 Mar 2023

The official opening of the Mildenhall Hub in September 2021

Councillors have praised the positive progress being made by the nationally award winning Mildenhall Hub and suggested next areas of improvements to focus on.

Members of West Suffolk Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee met at the Hub to debate a report at their meeting, on Thursday, 9 March, which showed how the Hub is already meeting objectives set for it.

This included the Hub being on its way to meeting the financial aim of being cost neutral after five years of operation.

The report also highlighted that funding had been set aside as part of the Hub project to make further improvements once the facility was open and issues were identified.

The committee supported the recommendation to look at even nearer parking and drop-off for people with disabilities and/or low mobility as well as working with Suffolk County Council Highways to carry out a final audit on the main junction to the site. In addition, the committee suggested that Suffolk County Council should investigate a light controlled crossing on the High Street at the end of Church Walk to assist traffic management at the start and end of the school day. They also agreed to review progress on finances after five years (as per the planned five year break-even test).

The report outlined the early achievements – including meeting the ten objectives set for the project (see notes to editors). In addition, membership to the leisure centre has risen beyond expectations and close working with health has seen better outcomes for a range of people using the Hub including journeys to hospital avoided for outpatient appointments. With new facilities, school attainment is also up and the number of people using their library card at Mildenhall has increased by nearly 80 per cent, with loans up by more 50 per cent. 

Achievements highlighted in the report for the Council-funded leisure facilities include:

  • Membership of the leisure centre is up 127 per cent since opening against an estimate of around 60 per cent.
  • This includes enrolment in the Swim Academy up by 100 per cent compared to an estimate of around 20 per cent.

Overall use of the leisure facilities is up by nearly 60 per cent.

  • 33 Park Run events have been hosted up to January 2023, attracting 2,946 attendances by 1,310 individuals.

Two integrated leisure and health pathways with NHS are also in place which target frailty and pulmonary rehabilitation (which includes Long Covid). The Hub has hosted the Sporting Memories initiative for older people, the Catch 22 Suffolk Positive Futures initiative to reduce anti-social behaviour and a place-based physical activity pilot with the NHS. There is a cardiac rehabilitation programme in place using the leisure facilities while children attending the speech and language sessions also benefit by being able to go straight to the library to choose some books.

The environmental performance of the hub is also featured in the report. Among many renewable energy features, 741 solar panels saved over £40,000 worth of electricity and 140 tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2022. The building’s battery storage system has saved another 44 tonnes of emissions in that period.

Despite being built in the middle of the Pandemic, the report highlights that the cost to the Council of building its parts of the scheme rose by less than 4 per cent from early provisional estimates made in 2018.

But this increase was matched by higher than expected rents and estimated savings which means after two years, the Hub looks on track to meet its break-even test for taxpayers by year five. Members of the committee agreed that a review should be taken at the five year milestone to review if it was going to meet this aim, as originally planned.

Paid for by a partnership of public organisations and funding bodies, Mildenhall Hub is ground-breaking nationally in the One Public Estate Programme, providing modern facilities and easier access to services for the local community. It is innovative in bringing education, health, leisure and other public services together to work more closely and provide better outcomes, especially around health and wellbeing.

Chair of Overview and Scrutiny, Cllr Ian Shipp, said: “While the statistics are impressive it is what I see and hear myself about the Hub that matters most to me. From the conference room we met in, we could we see how busy the hub is but as a local councillor I get positive feedback from local residents and partners too. The Hub is a great asset for the town but, as a nationally ground-breaking facility, there are no blueprints to follow. That is why we have suggested some areas to focus on based on learning and feedback from residents and those who use the facility. Within 20 months, despite a pandemic, the Hub has nearly met its financial objectives and we have recommended this is reviewed in five years to ensure it is on track.”

Cllr Jo Rayner, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Culture and Community Hubs, said: “The Hub was a huge and bold investment in the community of Mildenhall and the surrounding area by the Council and its partners. The main aim was not just to bring better facilities for Mildenhall but to improve access to services and outcomes in education and health and wellbeing. I am pleased the committee could see and test the benefits being achieved. This is the future for public services and the work by Overview and Scrutiny is a vital step in making sure we are achieving what we set out to achieve and understanding how we can improve. Provision, including £100,000 funding, was made for further improvements once the Hub was being used. The recommendations made in the report and by the committee will now be taken to Cabinet on how these may be taken forward.”

West Suffolk Council Cabinet will look at the recommendations at a future date.
The 10 objectives set for the project which it has met, includes:

  • radically improve the quality of facilities for post-11 education
  • reduce the equivalent built elements of the existing public estate by around 5000m2 or 20 per cent, even allowing for an increase in the current range of leisure facilities
  • include over 3000m2 of shared internal space and shared meeting spaces
  • potential to reduce the running costs of the combined public estate by over 50% (or £20 million) over 25 years
  • relocate services from several sites down to one accessible location, close to the town centre
  • provide scope for some of the public services to expand in the future, if demand for them grows
  • release several existing public sector sites for housing, retail, employment or other community uses
  • provide a flexible environment for virtually any model of service delivery in the future, with strong community ownership
  • house a shared ‘Hub Host’ team in a single shared reception area who can deal with first contacts with visitors
  • integrate IT systems.

Mildenhall Hub was jointly funded by West Suffolk Council, Suffolk County Council, the Department for Education, Academy Transformation Trust, Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner and the National Lottery, via Sport England.

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