With the recent confirmation that Leeds City Council have decided to auction off the Council Offices building in Rothwell against the wishes of the local community we have put together a summary of the plan the Friends of Rothwell Community Enterprise have been working on with local Councillors for the building to be used to benefit the local area and local residents.
This plan has been developed over a period of 7 years and has been revised and updated over time to accommodate various concerns and, at times, arbitrary obstacles created by the Council who appear to have been in a position of not wanting the building themselves but not wanting the local community to take responsibility for it either.
Now that they have a financial crisis brought about by a government that has slashed local community budgets and a council that has failed to transform its operations to deliver the efficiencies required to meet that reduced funding level they have decided to sell the family silver to the highest bidder as quickly as possible regardless of our heritage and community wishes. This is both a short term and short sighted approach especially with the developing conversations around 20 minute neighbourhoods and the facilities and services people should be able to access in their local areas.
Rothwell Council Offices were originally built in the late nineteenth century and given to the area to accommodate the civic responsibilities of the Rothwell Urban District Council which at the time included a number of surrounding villages and operated independently of Leeds.
In 1974 Rothwell was absorbed into the Leeds City Council area and the council took over the management of the building. In 2016 the decision was taken to close the building with a potential disposal planned. The local community did not, and does not, want that to happen and have been fighting for several years for a community asset transfer so they can renovate, restore and reopen the building for the benefit of the local area, local residents and local businesses.
The plan is for the old Council Offices to once again become the heart of our small town (as it still is for our Christmas Eve celebrations). We will create welcoming, usable, flexible spaces and new facilities and services to support local businesses, local people and local community groups. In addition, our commercial offering will be marketed to attract businesses from further afield which will also help support our businesses and high street.
Our plan closely resembles the HEART enterprise in Headingly which was once a primary school and is now a thriving community and business centre. Learning from and building on their experience we are confident that we can create a sustainable business that will support our historic building for years to come.
Our aim is to create a flexible, modern, light, bright and multi-functional space which provides and enhances facilities and services for the local community whilst accommodating enough commercial activity to support the ongoing operating costs of the building.
Anchor Tenants – we have a number of organisations already committed to renting space in a refurbished building
The award winning Rothwell Temperance Band have been looking for a permanent base and band room for a number of years. They are currently using a less than ideal space at a local Rugby Club for their rehearsals but the space is also used, and needed, by the Rugby club for their core activities. The band have funds to invest in renovation of the Council Offices and are are expected to occupy the extension space to the rear of the building.
MHA Communities Rothwell is a local neighbourhood network supporting over 55s across the Rothwell, Lofthouse, Ardsley and Methley area. They are currently based in the Oulton Institute but want a location that is more central to the area they cover as well as a space that is accessible by their members. There is also the possibility of them hiring space within the building for some of their activities.
A local GP Surgery & Primary Care Network need additional office based space on a long term basis. Ideally the local surgery needs to expand to provide additional services but is limited in its ability to do so. There is sufficient space within the Council Offices building to accommodate both requirements (and potentially others from other surgeries in the area).
Ground Floor: Our plan is to create a flexible ‘hot desk’ area, a number of smaller offices, meeting rooms, and treatment areas that can be hired on a long, medium or short term and adhoc basis. The spaces will be modern, bright and equipped with printing and copying support as well as essential wifi / broadband connectivity.
We also plan to include a new licensed café to cater to both the local community as well as those using our spaces to hire. The cafe will open for an extended period across the day (we currently have a couple of cafes in the area but both are closed by 4pm) and in the evenings is expected to have a focus on our younger population who have limited opportunities in the area to socialise amongst their own age groups
The LS26 Community Foodbank would also like to relocate into the building so they can develop their community ‘pantry’ model. They would open on more days and at different times during the day to make accessing food support (and potentially other cost of living advice & support) available to as many people as possible across the LS26 & WF3 post code areas. The foodbank operates on a no-referral, walk in basis, currently opens only on Wednesdays and is based in Blackburn Hall. They currently support on average 50-60 families per week with over 150+ registered users. But expect to be able to support even more with a permanent base and more flexible opening times.
A more recent development in the area is the need to establish a community banking hub which can provide cash in / out and advice for a number of high street banks and / or the Leeds Credit Union. This is a new requirement following the closure of the last bank (NatWest) in Rothwell in June 2023 which has caused issues for the local community in accessing and depositing their cash as well as in obtaining advice for those unable on not wanting to us the online services available. If we were to get the banking community to agree to provide and staff the hub the Council Offices would be the obvious place for it to be located. Access to banking services is a key part of a 20 minute neighbourhood and currently none of our local residents have that service.
We also have plans for a local museum and arts & crafts gallery where we can display items and photographs of the history of our area as well as enabling local artists to display and sell their works.
A small visItor information space is also a possibility guiding people around Carlton, Rothwell, Oulton & Woodlesford including (amongst many others) the Country Park, local waterways around the River Aire & the Aire & Calder Navigation as well as St Aidens. Rothwell is much more than an ‘old tired mining area’!
First Floor: Here the aim is to create a series of interconnected rooms which will have the flexibility to accommodate larger business meetings, small conferences, team building spaces as well as being a banqueting space available for parties, community events and activities, as well as weddings, funerals and christenings. With the variety of local businesses in the area there is a real opportunity to boost the local economy. For example an entire wedding package can be put together utilising local business from the save the date / invitations to cars, cakes, photography, catering and even the ceremony).
There is also an ambition to create and run a small cinema space where we can screen a variety of new films, blockbusters and older films as well as specific genres to create themed nights utilising the spaces and facilities in the building to create experiences for local people as well as potentially linking in to the schools curriculum.
Whilst, by necessity, we may have to adapt or even remove the debating chamber fixtures and fittings we do intend to explore the potential of retaining them on site to be able to recreate the space for period films and TV series as well as providing a potential educational space for teaching about local history, politics as well as encouraging debates by local schools.
Outside: The building is surrounded by hard standing which is currently used for parking with very narrow access to the rear of the building. However, there is a large Council car park to the rear of the building and we hope will be able to obtain permission to create access directly into the car park for vehicles & pedestrians joining up the building with the local commercial zone. If that is agreed to the plan is to then try to recreate at least some of the green space that was originally at the front of the building providing more space for café customers an photo opportunities for potential wedding bookings.
The current business case estimate a refurbishment cost of c. £500-£750k. However, with the building condition deteriorating, inflation and supply issues we estimate the likely funding required will now be in the region of £1m+.
The intention is also to enable as many people as possible to be involved in the project no matter how they can contribute. On confirmation of a Community Asset Transfer being agreed we would also expect to launch a crowd-funding scheme such as ‘buy a brick’ and crowd-sourcing opportunities to make the most of the varied skills and volunteers all local communities have amongst their population.
Local Councillors also have some funds available to invest to kickstart the refurbishment programme and the Rothwell Temperance Band will invest funds to create the long term base and rehearsal space that they need.
We will also apply for a grant from the Government Community Ownership Fund which can make grants of up to £2m for capital works and up to £50k of revenue funding.
A funding consultant with experience in the local area (e.g. the Oulton Institute, The Cluntergate Centre etc) and further afield (e.g the Hepworth) of obtaining funding from third party organisations for projects similar in nature to our plan as previously been employed to advise on potential funding opportunities. Our intention is to re-engage with them to identify current funding opportunities and to assist with the applications to those funds.
Finally we will continue to look for sponsorship and partnership opportunities and other funding sources such as Key Fund who in the past have indicated they could potentially invest in us and our plan should the community asset transfer be agreed.
The building (on last inspection) is in a reasonable condition given the length of time it has been empty and the lack of maintenance in that time. However, it is beginning to deteriorate and a significant level of work is required to bring it back into a useable condition.
We have previously commissioned a building condition survey which identified the work needed at that time. As that survey is now a number of years old the plan is to undertake another survey to provide an updated view of what works are needed.
We have also consulted with Architects in the past and will do so again. With the revised survey(s) and Architect plans we will be able to put in place a repair and renovation plan and to update our business plan and financial forecasts and quickly begin the funding applications process. In the short term the funds available from local Councillors and the Temperance Band will be used to begin the building renovation and repair work.
Without the updated survey it is difficult for us to be able to discuss the requirements with a building company and therefore to estimate a realistic timescale. Depending on the work required and funding available we may need to adapt our plans. Ideally, we will have a fully renovated building ready to open within a year. However, we may need to stage the works over a longer period focusing on getting the core areas open and operating commercially to help support the development as it progresses.
There is a general lack of facilities and services in the local area as well as a shortage of space in which to provide them a repurposed and renovated Council Offices building will be able to fill some of that gap which fulfils the original intention for the building to serve its local community. There is no need for this building to be sold and no appetite locally for this building to be sold. As a community we are committed to saving the building and making it into a successful enterprise – and we should be allowed the opportunity to do that.
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