Community hub and affordable homes emerge from former cottage hospital

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An iconic cottage hospital in Suffolk has been transformed into a community hub and nine affordable homes with support from New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership’s Growing Places Fund.

The redevelopment of the old Southwold Hospital was undertaken by SouthGen, a community group established to prevent the building being demolished to make way for second homes.

Southwold and Reydon is the first community in England and Wales to buy back its community hospital to provide much needed affordable housing and community facilities in the area. The community hub includes a new home for the town’s library and a co-working space.

Southwold Hospital was closed by the NHS in 2015. SouthGen bought the freehold in March 2018 and sold it to Hastoe, which then provided SouthGen with a 999-year leasehold for a pepper corn rent.

The development received £250,00 from the LEP’s Growing Places Fund, which provides infrastructure loan funding to projects across Norfolk and Suffolk that might otherwise have stalled or not started at all.

All partners, including the local MP and councillors, attended a ceremony on 17 June to mark its completion. A Victoria Plum tree was planted to commemorate the occasion as the original hospital had started 125 years ago on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee on 22 June 1897. The refurbished building was completed in June 2022, coinciding with the Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.

Jessica DeGrazia Jeans, Chair of SouthGen, said: “This project has inspired a truly amazing community spirit. Hundreds of volunteers have participated in all aspects of the project from campaigning, doing the feasibility study, putting in the initial bid and buying the site, right through to funding the project, and maintaining the building’s integrity, design, and community use.

“We have been fortunate to receive generous grant support from the Community Business Fund, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, the Architectural Heritage Fund, the Reaching Communities Fund, the Denby Charitable Fund, the Ben and Phillipa Johnson Family Foundation, the Reach Fund, as well as a matching community share investment from Co-operatives UK through the Community Share Booster Programme.

“We are also indebted to all our partners. We could not have achieved this without them. Special thanks go to Hastoe for their help and unique approach. There are few organisations out there with such vision and commitment. Hastoe has been the very best of partners, and we are fortunate to have found them.”

Dr Thérèse Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said: “This project has taken a lot of guts, courage, and determination. There wouldn’t have been many communities prepared to take on a project like this. Its success lies completely in the strength, tenacity, and creativity of all those involved.”

Iain Dunnett said: “The LEP was very pleased to provide £250,000 of support from its Growing Places Fund to support the community hub providing a new home for the town’s library, a nursery, farm-to-fork café and co-working space for local entrepreneurs, freelancers and remote workers.”

(Photo: Paul Starr)

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