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Back to Shrubland Hall - and what is happening with health visitors?

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The James Bond mansion with no licence to wed

We had lots of emails from readers after we published a story last month about what was happening at Shrubland Hall. The interest came from far and wide, but among the emails was a tip that we look at the Instagram page of “Shrubland Palace”.

On that page there were lots of professional photos of at least two weddings which have taken place at Shrubland Hall. The impression reporter Sarah Burgess got from her look around the estate in December was of a virtually abandoned stately home which was falling into disrepair – not of a thriving wedding venue.

So we checked with Mid Suffolk Council - who would have to give planning permission if Shrubland Hall was operating as a commercial wedding venue – and Suffolk County Council, which gives licences to wedding venues to hold ceremonies. The owner of Shrubland, Dr Muhammed Farmer, had not got permission from either council.

What is going on? We found that since 2019 Shrubland has been marketed as a luxury wedding venue, appearing in bridal magazines and listings. The problem is, it doesn’t have permission to hold weddings.

What will happen next? Dr Farmer continues to ignore our attempts to contact him, but Mid Suffolk Council say they are in talks with him. They said: “If a breach of planning occurs, we then have to decide whether formal action is in the public interest, based on the likelihood of success and the significant cost to the taxpayer.”

Reading between the lines, it sounds like the council is going to keep monitoring things but not take any formal action at the moment.

Why aren’t babies in Norfolk getting health visits?

Lots of things stopped in spring 2020 when we were all locked down, including some vital public services. But since then, most have slowly resumed, albeit with certain restrictions.

One crucial service that has not fully resumed, however, are health visits to the homes of babies and toddlers to check on their development.

Five health visits are meant to be carried out on every child in England. The first one is done at birth, usually in the hospital. The second one happens at their home when they are around two weeks old, followed by a third at eight weeks, a fourth at a year and the final one at two-and-a-half.

However, we have discovered that the people responsible for carrying out these mandatory visits in Norfolk stopped most of them during the pandemic, apart from the two-week visit, and never started them again.

It has meant thousands of families with new-borns are not seeing a health professional again after their baby is two weeks old.

Using the pandemic as an excuse for this failure does not wash with the families we spoke to.

It appears that Cambridgeshire Community Services, which is commissioned by Norfolk County Council to do the visits, has a shortage of staff and is therefore not providing the service it is being paid to do – and which the law states families are entitled to. They said they are only doing all the visits in person for the most vulnerable families.

The visits have continued as normal in most of the rest of the country, including Suffolk and Essex, so why is Norfolk getting such a shoddy service?

We have asked a series of questions to Cambridgeshire Community Services who stressed families could get help on their phone line and website instead. Digital technology can replace many things, but it is not a substitute for a health professional seeing a baby in person.

We will keep reporting on this until the service is restored.

That is all for now. We hope you’re having a great weekend and we’ll have lots more for you this time next week. If you are finding our newsletter interesting, please pass on to a friend. They can sign up here and do get in touch with any comments or issues you would like us to look at.