Guildhall Agreement on Firm Footing
A charity that helps voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations has made a positive start on managing a key building in Newcastle town centre.
Support Staffordshire has reported a number of early successes in its first performance review since opening a community and voluntary sector hub at the Guildhall.
The county-wide support organisation agreed to take on the running of the historic venue in December 2018 on an initial 12 month basis following the relocation of Council staff to Castle House.
It has since secured five tenants – Newcastle-under-Lyme Business Improvement District (BID), Staffordshire Adults Autistic Society, the Shaw Trust, Moneyline and Rethink – which has so far generated £6,927 in rental income. The Guildhall has hosted eight community events and been the first port of call for more than 910 public enquiries.
Both ground floor offices were utilised by March, the first floor had been transformed into an open plan office by the BID, improving its flexibility and future earning capacity, and the customer service desks were in regular use. The BID has also provided Wi-Fi for the building and donated a computer for use in the reception.
Volunteers from the Friends of the Guildhall have staffed the reception desk from 10am to 4pm, Monday to Friday, which has proved extremely invaluable.
Although in the first six months income hasn’t quite met running costs of £9,177, mainly due to initial set-up costs and higher than anticipated energy costs, Support Staffordshire is positive about future prospects and is addressing the current shortfall. The Council has incurred expenditure of £9,700 relating to statutory inspections and repairs/maintenance of the historic building that it agreed to cover. The rooms are being actively marketed and even though more regular bookings are in the pipeline, space is available to rent.
The Guildhall, which dates back to 1713, had fallen into disrepair at one stage. The Council took back the lease and opened it as a customer service centre in December 2008 following an extensive refurbishment programme.
Council Leader Simon Tagg said: “Six months ago the Council entered into a tenancy agreement with Support Staffordshire with the intention of keeping our much-loved Guildhall in public use, supporting footfall in the heart of the town centre.
“The organisation has really hit the ground running, making so much progress in a short space of time, and is now concentrating its efforts on reducing costs and building on income levels. The Guildhall is well known as a place to come for help and has become a one-stop shop for a range of services including money advice, mental health support and help with finding volunteering and employment opportunities.
“It’s always been acknowledged that this project would take time to develop. It will be interesting to review this in another six months once initial set-up costs have been absorbed and utility bills have settled down due to renegotiated tariffs. The Council continues to provide a high level of support which is valued and appreciated.”
The Friends of the Guildhall is working on a business plan with the intention of taking on the Guildhall and while Support Staffordshire is supportive of these plans, it may be able to consider extending the current arrangement if no agreement is reached by December.
Jill Norman, Support Staffordshire’s local manager, added: “It has been a very busy few months since we opened the doors of the Guildhall and local people seem really pleased to see the building in active use again. It is proving to be a popular base for local organisations providing a range of valuable services for local people, and for those looking for a central venue for meetings and events.
“We are delighted to be working with the Council to develop the Guildhall as a hub and information point, and we are also very grateful for the help provided by the Friends of the Guildhall.”
To book the foyer and reception area or upstairs meeting room, express an interest in becoming a Friend or helping with reception cover, please visit the Guildhall, call 07885 381 362 between 10am and 4pm on weekdays (07983 983840 at other times), or e-mail email@example.com. Anyone interested in renting a customer service desk can e-mail Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last updated 27 June 2019