Group officially secures site for innovative town project
- Credit: Nick Butcher
A group of ambitious community figures have completed the acquisition of their town's former hospital, becoming the first body of its kind to do so in England and Wales.
Save Our Southwold (SOS), propelled by its community benefit arm SouthGen, has been handed the keys to the old Southwold and District Hospital after nearly two years of planning and fundraising.
The NHS closed the site in November 2015, leading to fears it would be developed into second homes. SOS subsequently joined forces with Hastoe Housing, who brought much-needed know-how and financial impetus to their proposed creation of a community hub.
With the planning application having been approved in December and contracts exchanged last month, the site officially moved into the hands of local people on Monday, March 26.
In light of the symbolic milestone, SOS chairman Laurence Vulliamy said: 'To have reached this stage in under two years is a massive achievement. A lot of people thought we'd never do it, so we're delighted to get this over the line.
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'This news will really put the spirit back into the town, where we've seen a surge of community support and enthusiasm.
'It's also been nice to see other community groups in the UK following our lead. We'd really encourage them to go for it because we've shown it can be done.'
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About 60pc of Southwold's properties are second homes, resulting in house price inflation and a declining population. However, five of the nine housing units being built by Hastoe as part of the project will be affordable homes for local people.
Among the community hub facilities will be a café, public library, small business centre and a crèche available to those working there.
Dr Helen Tucker, vice president of the Community Hospitals Association, added: 'Communities across England will be looking on with interest to learn from SouthGen, who are the first group of their kind to create a new community resource at their old hospital.'
From here on continues the intense fundraising campaign, where SouthGen will attempt to generate £850,000 for the construction of the scheme's community element.
The group are applying for numerous grants and launching a community benefit shares initiative, allowing local people to become stakeholders.
Funds for NHS
While the sale of the site will bring it back into use for the Southwold community, it also serves to raise vital funds for the NHS.
The former cottage hospital was closed in 2015 as part of plans to replace health centres with out-of-hospital services, before being deemed surplus to requirements in April 2016.
With SouthGen as their partners for the community-led redevelopment, Hastoe Housing's purchase from NHS Property Services has been completed for £935,000.
Saul Spevack, senior transaction manager for NHS Property Services, said: 'The sale of the former Southwold Hospital has not only generated funds for reinvestment but also brought a vacant site back into use to deliver new homes and community facilities.
'Proceeds from the sale will be reinvested in the NHS.'
Paul Maidment, associate director for Savills Chelmsford - advisors on the sale - added: 'We're delighted that Hastoe Housing Association has purchased the site for the provision of affordable housing.'