A creative industries hub is being developed in a former post office and telephone exchange in Suffolk in a move which will provide working space for businesses and reinvigorate the local economy.
Art Station is refurbishing a 5500sq ft space on the first floor of the premises in Saxmundham and work on the £140,000 project is now well underway despite the challenges of Covid-19, thanks to the organisation’s determination, support from funders and the enthusiasm of the community.
A grant of £50,000 was awarded by New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership from its Growing Places Fund, with the remaining funds coming from Magnox, East Suffolk Council, local crowdfunding and trusts.
Unused and empty for five years, this new space will provide:
- 10 spacious workspaces
- tech space for 8 to 10 businesses
- hot-desking area
- communal areas for exhibitions/meetings/events
- project room, print room, darkroom
- catering and toilet facilities
It will provide affordable space for the creative industries, bringing this sector into this lovely rural market town. From the hub, the Art Station will offer a supportive arts and tech programme for all ages that also provides training, work experience, internships, volunteering; thereby engaging young people with their future and ownership of the high street and the town.
The imaginative project will also boost the wider community of coastal Suffolk supporting both the local economy and offering social impact from the creative hub, providing affordable workspaces and enhancing the area’s cultural life and bringing new visitors into the town.
The 1950s post office, a modernist glass and concrete building located in the centre of the historic town, is a local landmark where many local people worked up until the 1970s.
Clare Palmier, Art Station Director, said Covid-19 had inevitably caused issues, with external parties delays due to furloughed staff and homeworking. However, the first workspaces should be available from November 2020, with the Art Station starting to deliver a programme of activities and potentially recruiting four young people into work placements over the coming months.
“Suffolk has more people working in tech than in agriculture but there’s a general shortage of support for tech start-ups in rural areas like this,” she said. “Developers prefer lively creative workspaces rather than working alone at home or in conventional business centres.
“There is also a thriving community of artists and craftspeople but there are no permanent facilities, or exhibition space for contemporary art around the coastal area.
“We are confident that the Art Station will attract a wide range of artists, craftspeople, small tech businesses and new start-ups. It will also be a draw for visitors and is such a positive development after months of lockdown.”
“The LEP regards the project as having significant social impact through creating cultural and enterprising activity, volunteering and work experience opportunities within the town and surrounding areas. It will have a positive impact on the high street of Saxmundham, bringing creative vibrancy to this location”
Iain Dunnett, Growing Places Fund Co-ordinator, said: “It is great to see a building being refurbished for such a good creative new use in an area of Suffolk that is short on this type of enterprise facility. This development will make a significant contribution to the creative and economic wellbeing of local people, business and community in Saxmundham, an important market town, and its rural surrounds.”
Art Station has received previous support in its development from School of Social Entrepreneurs East, Start East, Power to Change, East Suffolk Council, Suffolk Pro Help, Scarfe Trust, Arts Council England.