£150,000 for multi-use community hub

New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership has awarded SouthGen a grant of £150,000 towards the cost of redeveloping Southwold Hospital. With this grant, SouthGen will have succeeded in raising nearly half of the £850,000 needed to redevelop the Old Hospital for the benefit of residents of Southwold, Reydon and surrounding parishes.  The Old Hospital was bought back from the NHS in March 2018 after a hard fought campaign that could not have been won without the support of the community.

The grant has been awarded through New Anglia LEP’s Growing Places Fund, which provides loan funding to help kick start and support development projects across Suffolk and Norfolk.

The acquisition was the result of a unique partnership – the first of its kind in England and Wales — between Hastoe Housing Association and SouthGen, a community benefit society that will be raising part of the finance for redevelopment by issuing community shares.   Jessica Jeans, the Chair of SouthGen said, “There were no templates for this pioneering project – everyone was challenged to think outside of the box to solve the financial, legal and development issues flowing from this innovative social experiment.  The New Anglia LEP was recognizing this when they awarded us the grant.”

Doug Field, chair of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “This is a truly unique project, both in its partnership approach and in the range of benefits it will bring to people in the Southwold and the Waveney area. It’s also a great example of a community coming together to spot a gap in housing and services provision and find a solution. We believe it represents excellent value for a Growing Places Fund investment.”

SouthGen has obtained planning permission to use the Old Hospital for affordable housing, a new home for Southwold library,a nursery for working parents, a farm to fork café to support local food production, and for a start-up business hub. Hastoe is responsible for building the affordable housing, and it is up to SouthGen to deliver the rest.

The East Suffolk Economic Strategy has identified a shortage of affordable business space as a barrier to creating new jobs in the Waveney area.  Charlotte Brown, the business planning lead on SouthGen’s Management Committee, explained, “One of our charitable objectives is to provide affordable premises for start-up companies and also for community facilities.  We will be able to keep rents low by obtaining grants to build the site – this reduces our finance charges.  Also, as a charity, we receive an 80%reduction in rates, which we will be passing onto our tenants.  This is especially important in Southwold,which has some of the highest rates in the country.”

Now, Hastoe and Southgen are working out the details of the re-building project, which involves demolishing ungainly 20th century additions to the Old Hospital and restoring its Victorian façade.

Mrs Jeans stated, “We hold regular meetings in the old physiotherapy wing, which is being used temporarily to store furniture donated to SouthGen, to make sure that both partners are happy with the progress.  The Old Hospital is locally listed and is in a Conservation Area. Both Hastoe and SouthGen are very conscious that this is a landmark project and we both want to get it right.”

The current start date for construction is in February 2019.  If all goes according to plan, the community hub will be open for business in the early summer of 2020.

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