A sea-change in how a number of key buildings in Alnwick will be used in the future has been unveiled, as part of a new blueprint for the county’s main towns.
Northumberland County Council today revealed details of its proposals following a review of 89 buildings across the county.
In Alnwick, the Northumberland Hall is to receive the major investment it has so long required, to transform it into a wedding venue with opportunities for businesses to locate on the ground floor.
Looking further ahead, discussions are ongoing over the possibility of the Playhouse becoming a community hub, housing the library, visitor information, customer services and registrars. This would be in addition to retaining catering and performance spaces.
The first phase of the plans is the disposal of a number of council-owned properties which are surplus to requirement.
As previously reported by the Gazette, this includes Allerburn House and the former Alnwick Council Chamber on Clayport Street, which has already been sold, although no confirmation of the buyer’s identity was available at this stage.
Others include the former children’s home Thornbrae, which has been replaced by Thorndale House, on the Barndale School site, and the fire station, on South Road, which is being moved to a new ‘super depot’ at Lionheart Industrial Estate.
The proposals for the Northumberland Hall are likely to be met with interest, as many will feel the venue is long overdue a refurbishment.
In terms of the building’s continued availability as a venue for other events, a county council spokeswoman said: “Further work needs to be done on the proposal, but, like similar venues, it is most likely that it will be available for other suitable uses.”
The Playhouse scheme is at a very early stage and it is not known what will be the exact outcome of discussions in terms of which parts of the building are used for which purpose.
Roy Todd, chairman of Alnwick District Playhouse Trustees, said: “Alnwick District Playhouse Trustees, part owners of the Playhouse, who have managed the building and its programme for 25 years, remain fully committed to the Playhouse as an arts resource for the whole community and its operation remains unaffected by the Northumberland County Council proposals.”
The building is also owned by Northumberland Theatre Company, which has its offices and studio on the ground floor.
The Gazette contacted the Northumberland Theatre Company yesterday, but received no response by the time of going to press.
Mayor of Alnwick, Bill Grisdale, was pleased that the proposals are looking to the future of the town. “It’s fantastic to see some inward investment into the town,” he said.
“The Northumberland Hall has needed work for a number of years. It should make it a fantastic asset for the town and other wedding venues in the area are really rising in popularity.”
He also said that he was in favour of the Playhouse building being used as a hub.
“The proposals will relieve a lot of uncertainty for the town,” he added.
Town and county councillor Gordon Castle described the Northumberland Hall as ‘a jewel of the town’, saying that it is ‘well overdue proper investment and marketing’.
“It is the centrepiece of Alnwick, but at the moment it’s shabby and run-down,” he said. “Other venues in the area are doing very well hosting weddings.
“This has been a focus of mine in County Hall for some time – the need to do something with the building.”
Regarding the Playhouse, Coun Castle said that there were issues to be resolved and ‘the devil will be in the detail’.
“If it’s in the interests of securing the future of the Playhouse for the community, if it’s about making use of redundant space and if it improves public access to services rather than hindering it, then I see no reasson to object at the moment.
“But there are some issues to be resolved and details to be ironed out, especially regarding the library service.”
DETAILS OF THE PROPOSALS FOR THE TOWN
The proposed accommodation plan for Alnwick has a number of phases.
The first will see the disposal of a number of properties that are surplus to future requirements. These include assets at Alnbank (the residential care home), Allerburn House, Clayport Street (Alnwick Council Chamber), the old fire station (with plans progressing for the new site at Lionheart Industrial Estate) and Thornbrae (the children’s home).
In addition, the grade I-listed Northumberland Hall will benefit from significant investment to create a wedding venue with opportunities for local businesses to locate on the ground floor.
Phase two involves potential development within Alnwick Playhouse where discussions are presently taking place regarding the potential to host library and visitor information, customer services and registrars on the ground floor while retaining catering and performance spaces.
Over the plan period, office accommodation will be consolidated and services co located, with new flexible working spaces being provided allowing efficient, agile working for council employees.
This will be carried out as current leases are disposed of. The council is also keen to explore the opportunity to identify one site where back-office services could be co-located to provide a central hub in the town.
Council leader Grant Davey believes this is a real opportunity for the town.
“Alnwick is one of the key strategic towns in the county and this investment proposal will save money, support regeneration and create a modern and accessible service facility,” he said.
“We will also establish a back-office hub supported by a modern approach to flexible and agile working.
“I am sure that Alnwick will embrace this opportunity and actively engage with the council to ensure that we get it right.”