Contributed by Jeanette Hilton
Head of Customer Services, NBC
Early in 2008, I was fortunate to be given the remit to refurbish the Guildhall, one of Newcastle’s most iconic buildings, to create the Borough Council’s first combined front line services centre. This represented a huge undertaking; nevertheless we were determined it would be successful. The choice of the Guildhall was not without its challenges; it has always been part of Newcastle’s life ( including my own), acting in the past as a ‘community hub’ for the people of Newcastle, but more recently its future use had been uncertain having been closed for a number of years.
The Council’s vision was to recreate the community hub in a modern way; providing centralised customer focused facilities fit for the 21st century whilst preserving as much of the historical nature of the building as possible.
This was achieved through the hard work and dedication of a team of people, all bringing their expertise and input to the project. Close working with English Heritage, conservationists and local interest groups/individuals, culminated in a successful re-opening in December 2008 to a standard which proved worthy of a Civic Society Award in 2009.
What of the present? The Guildhall Customer Service Centre is growing and developing in both the range of services provided, and the diversity of people who are accessing our services. The Centre is visited by upward of 5000 people each month with approximately 4000 of those coming in to request or receive services. Others still come in to admire the salvaged Minton tiled floor and to recount their memories of the building.
Providing services that are in tune with residents’ needs, particularly in the current economic climate, is quite a challenge but is key to the success of the Guildhall Centre. Services that have been available since the opening include information and face to face advice on services such as Council Tax and Benefits, Waste Management, Planning and Building Control, Streetscene, Land Charges, Parking Permits and Environmental Health. Additional services include the issue of Concessionary Bus Passes and, since April this year, Disabled Persons Badges. All our customer service agents are specially trained in the wide range of services on offer and will wherever possible try to resolve your query on the spot.
Feedback from our residents is essential in improving our services; for example, through listening to what our customers say, we recently introduced the Council Payment card to make the paying of Council Tax and Business Rates easier. This has simplified the process, reduced waiting times and is less time consuming for residents.
There is growing interest in the use of the three private rooms at the Guildhall by partners and community groups. Regular bookings of these facilities include the NHS Condition Management Scheme, ConneXions, Coalfield Regeneration Trust (Family Employment Initiative), Shaw Trust and Building Control Advisory. Many community groups and partners provide one day events and promotions, such as the recent Fire Brigade Electric Blanket Testing day attended by over 400 people.
What of the future? Over time, the Guildhall is again becoming what it was always meant to be; a ‘community hub’ for the people of Newcastle. I feel very privileged to have been part of the regeneration of this wonderful building. I would like to encourage residents and visitors to become part of its future; using, commenting on and developing its facilities will ensure the Guildhall is preserved for future generations.
The Guildhall Customer Service Centre is open from 9am to 5pm, Monday – Friday
If you would like to arrange an event or promotion, please call in at the Centre or email firstname.lastname@example.org