Thursday, 21 August 2008

Group wants to put old hospital to use as community and cultural hub

IDEAS are being sought for the best way to use the existing town centre Minehead Hospital after it is replaced by a new hospital on the edge of the town.
Minehead Old Hospital Group (MOHG), which was formed earlier this year, is asking people across West Somerset to contribute their thoughts on its proposal to make the hospital a hub of community and cultural activity.
The group wants to keep the historic listed building for the community and hopes the venture can be underpinned by sound private enterprise to make it a viable and sustainable centre for residents across the district to enjoy and also to provide an indoor attraction for visitors.
MOHG chairman Julian Luttrell said: “The hospital was built as a town hall in 1889, before it was converted into the Luttrell Memorial Hospital and, latterly, the West Somerset Hospital.
“Not only is the beautiful building based in the heart of the town, it has always had the public at the heart of it various functions.
“We would like to keep it this way, and we would like the support of people from the whole area if they feel the same.”
Web pages have been set up on West Somerset Council’s website so that people can track the project’s progress.
There are feedback forms on the page and the group would like to hear local people’s views on their hopes and aspirations for the building, and how they see it benefiting the district’s community in future.
The pages can be accessed at by clicking on the ‘Minehead Old Hospital’ tab under the popular pages heading on the right hand side of the screen.
MOHG has plans to widen consultation opportunities for local people in the coming months to allow everybody with an interest to have their say on the potential uses of the building, and it will make details available shortly.
An economic regeneration strategy for Minehead and West Somerset identified a need to develop the area’s profile as a leisure destination with tourism, citing culture, arts, and crafts as major drivers.
MOHG group has raised approximately £20,000 in donations for a feasibility study into the old hospital site’s future.
Pledges for the study have come from all sectors of the community, including the Minehead and East Quantoxhead Trust, Minehead Chamber of Commerce, Somerset County Council, and West Somerset Council.
The South West Regional Development Agency, which encourages projects which regenerate local towns and their economies, has also expressed an interest in the project.
And the Grade 2 listed building’s current owner, Somerset Primary Care Trust, has not ruled out remaining stakeholders in any proposals which may arise from the study.
ARTlife chairman Ray Tew said: “As part of this exploratory work, we have also applied to Sea Change for further funding.
“Sea Change specialises in arts and cultural regeneration projects which will bring benefits specifically to coastal towns.
“If this extra funding is won, it would increase the scope of our feasibility study to include other sites in the town, such as the Regal Theatre and Blenheim Gardens.
“Either way, we are committed to exploring all the options we can for the old hospital.”
The hospital, which is in the Wellington Square conservation area, has a Gothic Revival façade which remains largely intact.
In 1898, the ‘old’ police station was built at the rear, and another extension for a nurses’ home was built in 1923.
Minehead Conservation Society spokeswoman Sally Bainbridge said: “It is vital that this architecturally-important listed building which was designed by one of Minehead’s foremost Victorian architects, Piers St Aubyn, is preserved and restored.
“The building has contributed to the cultural, social, and community needs of Minehead for over a century and we would like to see this valuable asset continue to benefit people across the whole of West Somerset.”
The aim of the feasibility study is to establish ways in which the hospital can be developed to play a significant part in social and cultural life locally.
The study will look at the possibilities of incorporating a library, exhibition and museum space, and community arts space, study rooms, and offices.
It will also explore whether the works and theories of Minehead-born author Sir Arthur C. Clarke can be celebrated, and there will be scope to look at commercial and residential aspects of any proposals.
Chamber commerce chairman Graham Sizer said: “We are not naïve and we know that it is hard for cultural and arts centres to make a profit, especially in these hard financial times.
“To underpin the project and make a good business case, we need to explore avenues that will help support the project in the long-term.
“If the study is positive, we will apply wherever we can for capital funding to buy the building and get any viable proposals under way.
“However, we do not want to see it struggle once that funding has run out, so we will consider any packages that will ensure the venture is sustainable for future generations who will live in or visit West Somerset.”
The group expects to hear next month if its Sea Change funding application has been successful.
Although it already has pledges of funding, it is still keen to hear from any other organisations which could be interested in contributing to the study.
West Somerset Council economic development and tourism portfolio holder, Councillor Michael Downes, said: “In the study, we hope to identify that the hospital can play a significant role in the regeneration of Minehead by providing a social and cultural hub, while also providing visitors with a focal point in the centre of town.
“The potential value of the hospital to tourism, as well as to the local economy, should not be underestimated.”
Minehead’s Somerset County Council ward Councillor Ian Galloway, said: “The county council has invested a significant amount in the regeneration of Minehead through projects like work and market space beside the railway station.
“However, we recognise that new opportunities like the hospital will come along and, if they prove to have social, cultural, and economic benefits for the people of West Somerset, naturally we would welcome them and pledge our support to help make them a reality.”
Engage CVS manager Katrina Midgely said: “It would be really exciting to see a range of services under one roof.
“If it is possible, the hospital could provide local people with the chance to experience a range of arts and cultural pursuits as well as give the communities of West Somerset a social centre in which to come together.”
  • Our photo shows the present town centre Minehead Hospital. Photo submitted.

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