An iconic landmark situated in the heart of Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre is to become a community and voluntary sector hub while its long-term future is decided.
Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council is working with Support Staffordshire to provide a wide range of services, as requested by residents, at the Guildhall. The county-wide voluntary sector support organisation has agreed to take over the running of the historic building for 12 months and is progressing talks with a host of other non-profit making organisations who have either confirmed or expressed an interest in renting office and desk space to deliver their services.
Support Staffordshire was involved in earlier discussions about the Guildhall’s future use along with Newcastle Business Improvement District, The Friends of the Guildhall, The Philip Astley Project and Keele University Students’ Union. Further potential tenants identified since then include the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Aspire Housing, Prospect National Careers Service, Shaw Trust, Staffordshire Adults Autistic Society, Moneyline, Re-Think mental health charity and the Dove counselling service.
Anticipated income levels are expected to cover running costs but the Council will continue to be responsible for buildings insurance and external repairs. Responses to consultations carried out by the Council and Friends of the Guildhall highlighted three themes for new uses – arts and cultural activities, support for community and voluntary groups and small business pop-up trading days.
The Guildhall, which dates back to 1713, had fallen into disrepair at one stage. The Council took back the lease to prevent further decline and opened it as a customer service centre in December 2008 following an extensive refurbishment programme. It has become available for new uses since the recent relocation of staff to Castle House.
Council Leader Simon Tagg said: “After many months of planning and discussions, I’m delighted to announce that interim arrangements are now in place to make excellent use of this beautiful and much-loved public building while longer term plans are agreed. Residents have played a very important part in the process – their ideas and suggestions during the consultation process have helped to shape service delivery. There’s also been great interest from community and voluntary organisations that provide valued services to residents such as money and employment-related advice. Support Staffordshire has a successful track record of delivering services for voluntary and community groups as well as managing premises. Leaving the Guildhall to become redundant was not an option. The scheme helps to protect the fabric and heritage of the Guildhall, adds character to the existing retail provision in Newcastle town centre and meets the Council’s key priorities.”
Jill Norman, Support Staffordshire’s local manager, added: “This is a great opportunity to bring a range of voluntary organisations into the heart of Newcastle, most of them offering services direct to the general public. Our own organisation plans to use the Guildhall to promote volunteering and match people to local organisations seeking volunteers. The new partnership will bring accessible, useful services to the people of Newcastle.”