Hebden Bridge Town Hall
Wednesday, 31 October 2007
An ambitious community-led initiative is hoping to breathe new life into one of Hebden Bridge's most important historic buildings. Andrew Bibby has told the Hebden Bridge Web, "We want to make this landmark building once again the heart of local life. With the Hebden Bridge community directly responsible for looking after it, we're sure that we can maximise its use, both for voluntary groups and for public services."
The Hebden Bridge Council Offices complex, beside St George's Bridge in the centre of the town, was originally built in 1897 for Hebden Bridge Urban District Council and is one of the town's architectural gems. In recent years, however, the building has been underutilised and in poor repair.
This could change if initial plans led by a partnership of local organisations is successful in persuading Calderdale to hand back ownership of the site to the local community. The proposal, which comes from the community umbrella organisation Hebden Bridge Partnership, follows more than a year of detailed preparatory work undertaken by a working party from Hebden Royd Town Council and the four neighbouring rural parish councils.
The Civic Offices complex is listed as being of particular architectural merit, and the first floor council chamber is a particularly fine room. However, the building has lost in recent years both the housing office and the births and deaths registration service. Wheelchair users are also excluded from most of the building.
"We're convinced that it's possible to make the council offices once more the hub of local life," says ClIr Janet Battye, chair of the town and parish councils working group on the building. "We envisage the building being transformed, and used for delivering a full range of public and community services. There's the chance to make proper meeting space too, accessible by all."
The government has recently produced a green paper encouraging local authorities to consider passing ownership of community assets across to direct community ownership and as a consequence there are new grant funding possibilities available. "So this is an ideal time to make a move," explains Andrew Bibby. "We have made initial approaches to Calderdale, who of course are key partners in any future plans. We think what we're proposing could help the council too, in providing a long-term sustainable solution to what is at present something of a millstone for them."
The Council offices site is one of the priority projects identified by Hebden Bridge Partnership as key to the next phase of the town's regeneration, and the project group is now undertaking work towards a detailed feasibility study. Calderdale will respond formally shortly, though the group say that they are hopeful of a successful outcome to the negotiations. The group will be working closely with existing users of the building and will also call a meeting open to all local people within the next few weeks.
"This building has been a part of local life for 110 years, and what we have to do is to put in place the framework for the next century. We're enormously excited about the potential, though we also know that it will take time to sort out the legal and financial arrangements," says Janet Battye. "But with local goodwill and support, what we're proposing has to be the right way forward. This could be a key community resources for the town for generations to come."
As well as Calderdale councillor Janet Battye and financial journalist Andrew Bibby, the project team currently includes solicitor Keith Lomax, accountant Jessica Sutcliffe, director of Square Chapel Arts, Sally Martin and Hebden Royd Town council project manager, Naomi Goddard.