Charnwood – an update October 2021
Charnwood was discussed at the NHDC Hitchin Committee meeting on the 12th October this year.
Back in December 2020 NHDC Cabinet agreed they wanted Charnwood to be a Community hub for use by the people of Hitchin. Charnwood Community Management Association (CCMA) welcomed this decision and expected matters to proceed with some urgency during 2021. We have therefore been disappointed with the lack of progress this year. After some 9 months and with pressure from CCMA a public consultation and open days was held at Charnwood at the beginning of September. There were over 200 responses and demonstrated the passion of residents for the Community hub to become a reality.
So the matter was discussed again at the Hitchin Committee meeting with a recommendation that the NHDC cabinet meeting in December should decide to go out to the Community and ask for proposals to turn Charnwood into a Community hub. This could of course have happened several months ago. However Hitchin Committee whilst approving the basic recommendation added a proviso that they wanted the Council to carry out a further ‘options’ review. This would include the possibility of NHDC directly managing Charnwood as a community hub or undertaking a collaborative effort with the Library. This has the potential to further delay matters, although subsequent to the meeting the Chair of Hitchin Committee has confirmed that it is the intention to complete this review prior to the December Cabinet meeting. CCMA still believe that the Community should manage and run Charnwood as a community hub and are very concerned at the potential for further delays.
CCMA are also concerned that thus far NHDC have failed to include any monies in their future capital budget for the refurbishment of Charnwood, even though it was clear following their decision in December 2020 that funding would be required following many years of neglect to the fabric of the building. We understand that such funding is now being considered in their current review of the capital budget this Autumn. We hope such funding will be adequate.
Prior to the Cabinet meeting in December 2020 CCMA submitted a detailed proposal to NHDC to use Charnwood as a Community hub. This proposal had been assembled following a professional survey of the building to determine not only the cost of refurbishing the building but also the modifications to turn the building into a useful community building. CCMA included detailed plans showing the internal modifications required which were sympathetic to the history of the building and recognised its Grade 2 listing. CCMA also included a preliminary business plan which showed that operation of Charnwood as a Community hub could be viable and sustainable over the long term. Such a plan would need to be revisited following the public consultation and taking account of how the pandemic may have affected the way community groups will operate in the future. However we believe the fundamentals of the business plan will still be valid.
We have indicated to NHDC that CCMA will not submit a further proposal if and when NHDC go out to Community Groups to ask for proposals to refurbish and manage Charnwood. However we have stated that we are willing to assist and cooperate with any ‘bona fide’ Community Group who wish to submit a proposal and share with them some of our background work. We believe that eventually any successful proposal from the Community is likely to involve several interested Groups combining together and CCMA could provide a suitable vehicle to bring that about.
In summary we are extremely disappointed with the progress over the past year and the potential for further delays. We are also concerned as to whether NHDC will fully recognize the funding that they will need to provide to restore Charnwood after many years of neglect. It is clear from the recent public survey that there is a strong desire for Charnwood to be returned to public use without delay and more urgent action is required from NHDC to make this a reality.
Charnwood Community Management Association (CCMA