Guisborough’s Town Hall was built in 1821 on the site of an ancient toll booth, and was extended in 1870. Over the years, it has been used as a prison and a court house, with part of the ground floor being open to the street as a “shambles,” or market.
More recently, the building has housed solicitors’ offices, but after they relocated, it stood empty and neglected. Now it will soon have a new life, at the heart of the local community, with a pivotal role in the area’s developing tourism industry.
For years, the future of this prominently sited Grade II listed building was uncertain, as countless pigeons and the East Cleveland weather caused rapid deterioration. Then Redcar and Cleveland Council stepped in to buy the building in 2015, and volunteers from the local community saw a future for their old Town Hall.
They formed the Guisborough Town Hall Gateway Project, with partner organisations including Laurence Jackson School, North York Moors National Park and Teesside University. An initial grant of £10,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2017 allowed for widespread consultation and research.
A team of Gateway Project volunteers, led by Andy Murray, drew up detailed business and financial plans, which were presented to National Lottery scrutineers. This resulted in a £1.1 million award from their Heritage Fund. Andy and the other volunteers did not stop there, and worked hard to secure further funding, including £300K from the Tees Valley Combined Authority.
In January 2020, Guisborough Town Hall Gateway Community Interest Company (CIC) was formed, and they began the process of finding a contractor to carry out such a specialised renovation project. Despite inevitable delays caused by the Covid Crisis, the restoration and conversion work that will breathe new life into this 200 year old building is now well under way.
The CIC Board members have ensured that local labour will be used in the refurbishment, with up to 24 people employed. The nature of the building work means apprentices will be trained in specialist historical restoration techniques. Once completed, the project will create more employment and extra facilities for Guisborough residents, as well as boosting East Cleveland’s tourism potential.
It won’t be too long before the old Town Hall is once again looking imposing from the outside, while inside there will be accommodation designed specifically for cyclists and walkers, tourist information, exhibition space and retail facilities. Town Hall Gateway team members have already developed a community programme that will enhance the quality of life for Guisborough’s people.
Guisborough Town Hall Gateway Project volunteers are gearing up to operate the heritage and information centre on the ground floor. Meanwhile, Redcar and Cleveland Council are keen to hear from businesses interested in running the visitor accommodation or leasing other spaces within the building.
As Andy Murray, now Chair of Guisborough Town Hall Gateway CIC, puts it,
“Autumn 2021 will see a revamped, restored, pristine Guisborough Town Hall change its appearance from being an ugly duckling to a building in which the entire community can be very proud.”
One of the secrets of this project’s success has been the extent of community engagement, crossing traditional party political divides. CIC Chair, Andy Murray, is well known locally as a Labour Party campaigner. However, it was a Conservative Councillor, Dennis Teasdale, who was Vice Chair until his untimely death a few months ago.
The two of them made an effective team, and Andy says, “I and my late Vice Chair considered ourselves privileged to have worked with such enthusiastic and committed local people to get the project to its current state.”
This non-partisan approach is evident at all levels. Redcar and Cleveland Council, which is controlled by an alliance of Independents and Liberal Democrats, is fully behind the project. Tees Valley Combined Authority, led by Conservative Mayor Ben Houchen, has given financial support, while his political opponent, Labour’s Jessie Joe Jacobs, talks enthusiastically about the importance of community-led regeneration that boosts employment in the heritage and tourism sector.
If you want to find out more about the building and the consultations that brought the project to this point, visit http://www.guisboroughtownhallgateway.co.uk
On the website, there is a film about the Town Hall and the work of the Project’s volunteers, made by students from Teesside University. The film includes amazing drone footage of the Guisborough area.
There is also a Facebook Page – Guisborough Town Hall Gateway Project.
If you’d like to become a Friend of Guisborough Town Hall Gateway CIC, contact Andy Murray on 01287 637803.
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