Agenda item

Old Town Hall Update


Councillor Banks presented the report to the committee as the portfolio holder. The Old Town Hall has been hugely impacted by Covid-19 and is one of the few services that remains closed. There is currently no date set for when to reopen the hall and the paper highlights the impact on the hall and its staff.


Councillor Mahmood asked if the Old Town Hall could stream events as there are no current plan to open.


M Rawdon said that technology is very costly and as the building is so old the costs are increased and currently do not have the budget available. He suggested that films could be shown.


Councillor Mahmood asked if we could record the performances and then stream them.


L Roberts said that they don’t have the licences required it’s not just as simple as that because it’s the artists content. She explained that they had looked at all options but there just not viable.


Councillor England asked about the ventilation in the hall and if it would be feasible for people to sit in the hall for a performance when it could be opened. 


S Railson said that there is no air conditioning in the main auditorium but there is an air filtration system in the cellar. There is a ceiling fan and windows in the auditorium.


Councillor England said he thought this would be a barrier to using the space. He was thinking that it could be used as an extension of space for local schools.


S Railson said it is a generous space. She referred to government guidance which acknowledged that older buildings would not have a filtration system in place and rely on natural ventilation. 


Councillor Adeleke referred to the report that mentions the capacity with social distancing is 45 seats and he said we need to look at the long term use for the hall. He also asked what the prospects were for the staff employed at the Old Town Hall.


M Rawdon said in the short term whilst the hall is unable to open, we are making sure we are in the best position possible to reopen as soon as given the go ahead. In relation to staff, we can look at deploying staff into other areas of the council that need support during the covid-19 response.


L Roberts said that we will have a better indication over the next few weeks about a second spike in the pandemic and the impact on current timelines. The work that has been done to date in the report, shows we are able to reopen when possible. Some casual staff have been able to let go but there are other staff who we will be looking to redeploy and have lots of transferable skills to help in other departments.


Councillor Mahmood referred to section 5 of the report and activities that could take place at the Old Town Hall. He asked if this will be pursued.


M Rawdon said that the Council need to decide when it is going to open but at the moment it isn’t an option.


Councillor Banks thanked Councillor Mahmood for his comments and said she would take away on behalf of the committee to see what avenues can be explored further to open for some limited and socially distanced exhibitions.


Councillor Imarni said that as it’s a heritage site would it be possible to get a grant through them to update the hall so it is suitable for a post covid era and asked if it has been explored as to what’s available.


S Railson said that they have looked at the arts side rather heritage money offered but was happy to look into it and report back to the committee.

Action: SR to confirm options re grants.


Councillor Imarni asked if we could get the exact costs for the work to be undertaken.


S Railson said there would need to be significant investment to bring the hall up to standard to stream performances. There are issues with copyright and how people would pay for this. She said is still waiting to hear back from ICT but thought the costs would be between £10-15,000 for the estimated works.


Councillor Imarni asked about the associate works.


S Railson said that we are probably looking at the same figures again. The building is listed and was constructed in three different parts so the wiring of the building is an issue. 

Action: SR to provide costings for the upgrade of the Old Town Hall.


Councillor Mahmood asked if one way signs and routes had been put in place to be covid-19 compliant.


S Railson said it has been done and are ready to go.


Councillor England asked if the café was open when the building was.


S Railson said that the café isn’t open because it supplements the performances. It is not independently run. 


Councillor England asked if we could open it with the measures in place and would we need staff.


S Railson said the space has been set up to accommodate social distancing measures. It could be opened with measures that were already in place but it would need someone to run it as the Old Town Hall staffs it during performances.


M Rawdon added that a private company use to run it but it didn’t last due to competition in the old town and it probably would not be financially viable.


Councillor Hollinghurst asked if the failure of the café being run privately was linked to the rent charged by the council.


M Rawdon said they went out to market to see if anyone else was interested about a year ago but there was no interest.


S Railson said part of the difficulty of just running it as a café is that it doesn’t have a front face on the high street and so it is difficult to be competitive. She thought the rent was £5,000 per annum for the third party operator.


Councillor Adeleke said there was a Task and Finish Group set up to look at the Old Town Hall. He suggested that officers revisit their recommendations as it looked at the profitability of the cafe and he felt this was still relevant.


Councillor England said if for a short period until we are able to return to normal and if there would be any possibility of offering the performance space where people might want to use it as a creative space alongside the café.


S Railson said she was happy to investigate other ways to make use of the space.




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