Transformation of town's former hospital site complete

Southwold's former hospital site has been transformed into a community hub and affordable housing.

Southwold's former hospital site has been transformed into a community hub and affordable housing. - Credit: Julie Carpenter

The transformation of a town's old Victorian cottage hospital into affordable homes and a community hub is complete.

Work to bring Southwold's former hospital building back into public use has seen a number of enterprises now open their doors at the site. 

The redevelopment scheme was devised by community group SouthGen, formed in 2017, with the aim of retaining the former hospital site for community use.

Southwold's former hospital site has been transformed into a community hub and affordable housing.

Southwold's former hospital site has been transformed into a community hub and affordable housing. - Credit: Paul Starr

The Old Hospital Nursery was the first service to open its doors at the Field Stile building earlier this year on April 25, followed by the library on May 5.

Now, the site boasts a farm-to-fork community cafe, The Canteen, and the Southwold Works co-working space, as well as nine affordable homes provided by Hastoe Housing Association which bought the freehold in 2018 and gave SouthGen a 999 year lease for a peppercorn rent.

Jessica Jeans, chairwoman of SouthGen

Jessica Jeans, chairwoman of SouthGen, pours a special Adnams beer over the rebuilt hospital at the topping out ceremony last year. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Jessica Jeans, SouthGen chair and Southwold Town councillor, said: “This is a really good news story for Southwold – and East Suffolk Council (ESC) has been such an important partner in making it happen.

“We worked with almost every department in ESC - each gave us support and sound advice.

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"It’s one of the best examples of an enabling communities strategy you could wish for. 

Southwold's former hospital site has been transformed into a community hub and affordable housing.

Southwold's former hospital site has been transformed into a community hub and affordable housing. - Credit: Paul Starr

“We wanted to prevent the loss of full-time housing to the holiday let, address the impact of that sector on affordability, and provide reasonable rents for much needed community facilities.

“We’ve been able to restore the character of a locally listed building and create deeply sympathetic additions that are in keeping with its context in a conservation area.

"It has been built to a high level of environmental sustainability, with air source heat pumps and solar panels.

Southwold's former hospital site has been transformed into a community hub and affordable housing.

Southwold's former hospital site has been transformed into a community hub and affordable housing. - Credit: Paul Starr

"“This project sends a strong message about what communities can do if they feel empowered and supported.

"Town mayor Will Windell was one of our earliest believers, and the then district councillor Michael Ladd helped us negotiate the bureaucracy.”

Southwold and District Hospital closed their doors in 2015, almost 120 years after it was built, and now becomes the first in England and Wales to be bought back and redeveloped for new community purposes.

Southwold's former hospital site has been transformed into a community hub and affordable housing.

Southwold's former hospital site has been transformed into a community hub and affordable housing. - Credit: Paul Starr

'Faraway dream' achieved

David Ritchie, East Suffolk Council's cabinet member for planning and coastal management, said: "SouthGen and its members deserve every credit for the amount of dedication shown in taking this project from vision to completion.

"It's an ideal example of a community taking an asset-based approach to promoting economic growth and value for money in a sustainable way."

Richard Kerry, cabinet member for housing, said: "I applaud the efforts of SouthGen to bring full-time affordable rent and shared ownership housing units to the town, while also providing a new home for the local library, and space for a nursey and cafe.

Southwold's former hospital site has been transformed into a community hub and affordable housing.

Southwold's former hospital site has been transformed into a community hub and affordable housing. - Credit: Paul Starr

"It fulfils a need not just for more housing, but more of the right type of housing."

The homes and community hub were developed in partnership with Hastoe Housing Association, with Modece Architects designing the award-winning project, built by Wellington Construction Ltd of Lowestoft.  

Matthew Bell, director and architect at Modece, said: “We started working with SouthGen on the proposals in 2017 at a time when the vision was a faraway dream.

“We are so proud of all the hard work that was put in by everyone involved to achieve the opening of these great community spaces five years later.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with such a caring and passionate community group, who will no doubt go on to achieve further great things.”