Widespread jubilation after exchange of contracts for Southwold Hospital project
- Credit: Nick Butcher
The dreams of an ambitious community group are a step closer to becoming a reality after contracts were exchanged for the acquisition of their town's former hospital.
SouthGen (Southwold and Waveney Valley Regeneration Society Ltd) has been leading the charge behind a campaign that would see the old Southwold and District Hospital move into the hands of local people.
The site was closed in November 2015 as part of NHS plans to replace health centres with out-of-hospital services and beds in care homes.
Following more than 18 months of planning and fundraising, SouthGen had their proposal to transform the hospital into a community hub approved by Waveney District Council in December 2017, and contracts have now been exchanged with NHS Property Services and partner Hastoe Housing.
Members of SouthGen expressed their joy at the latest breakthrough.
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'It's been a process with countless delays, but we're delighted to finally get this over the line,' said chairman Laurence Vulliamy. 'This is something to really put the spirit back into the town.'
Deputy chairman Jessica Jeans added: 'The community can be enormously proud of what has been achieved. This is the first time in England and Wales that a hospital has been bought back for community use.
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'This is a visionary project that will make a huge difference to Southwold and Reydon, and we could not have done it without Hastoe's help.'
Among the facilities included in the scheme are a community café, new public library, small business centre and a crèche available to those working there. Hastoe will turn part of the site into housing units - five of which will be affordable homes for local people.
Southwold mayor Matthew Horwood and Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey both praised SouthGen's unrelenting desire to achieve their goals.
'The community is indebted to the sheer perseverance of the SouthGen team as they realise their dream of giving the site a new lease of life,' said Mr Horwood.
'My congratulations go to all involved for the single-minded pursuit of their vision to bring this project to a successful conclusion.'
Dr Coffey added: 'I'm delighted SouthGen are realising their ambition of transforming the hospital into a community hub. I'd like to pay tribute to everyone who has worked so hard over the last 18 months.'
SouthGen's plans will see project partner Hastoe Housing Association turn part of the hospital site into nine housing units – five of which will be affordable homes for local people.
About 60pc of Southwold's properties are second homes, the highest proportion in the country. The resulting impact in recent years has been a huge house price inflation and a declining population that is the oldest in England and Wales.
Many young families live in outlying areas and SouthGen's hope the hospital acquisition will help to revive the community.
Sue Chalkley, chief executive of Hastoe Housing, said: 'Since the hospital closed in 2015, SouthGen has worked hard on behalf of Southwold people and shown determination to ensure the hospital's closure brings some benefit back to the area.
'At least five of the nine new homes will be affordable and protected for local people, making a big difference as house prices are especially out of reach for people living or working in Southwold.'