Hopes for old hospital turn to Heritage Lottery Fund

Trustees are calling for public pledges of support for their project to turn Minehead‘s redundant hospital into a vibrant hub of economic, cultural and community activity.

The Minehead Development Trust (MDT)[1], which has been working on the project for more than four years, aims to buy the site and develop it as a financially sustainable asset for Minehead, bringing social and economic benefits to the town.

MDT Chair Jenny Lennon-Wood explained: “We are working hard to submit bids for Coastal Communities and Heritage Lottery funding in late spring or early summer. If successful, we will be able to secure the site and sensitively develop its heritage buildings as an attraction for visitors and a social focus for the community.

“We now need public pledges of money to underpin our bid so that potential funders can see that the project has broad public blessing. Pledges do not have to be big. They can start at a pound, five, or ten pounds. Of course, the upper end for pledges is limitless but we know that the current economic climate means raising funds isn’t easy.

“However, all pledges count and we just ask that, whatever donation a person or organisation wishes to make, they are prepared to honour it at a later date when we’re ready to go ahead with our plans.”

The Grade 2 Listed Old Hospital, which occupies a prime site on Minehead’s main thoroughfare, The Avenue, has lain empty since the new community hospital opened at nearby Seaward Way last year. The Development Trust’s Vision[2] is to use the site’s unique central location as a catalyst for social and economic revitalisation at the very heart of the town.

MDT hopes to provide key services within the building and is consulting County councillors on the possibility of including the Library. With the eventual aim of bringing in a Visitor Information Centre, the Trust has also submitted proposals to run this service from a new central outlet; these are currently under discussion with local councils.

MDT is also working with the Minehead Conservation Society to create a museum celebrating the town’s history and with the Regal Theatre on exciting arts and entertainment ideas. To ensure that the project is financially viable in the long term, plans also include retail, office space and some housing.

On the strength of its proposals, MDT has successfully won backing from a variety of funding bodies[3] and undertaken a large amount of work to demonstrate that the centre can be developed as an asset for the whole community as well as a much-needed all-weather attraction for visitors. To acquire the site, the Trust is engaged in on-going discussions with the owners, NHS Somerset[4].

Membership of MDT represents a wide range of community groups, including arts and heritage, business, churches, the voluntary sector and local councils. The project also has the backing of Sir Julian Luttrell, whose family originally developed the building for the people of Minehead.

Graham Sizer, Chair of the Minehead Chamber of Trade, said: “Without a doubt, the most successful seaside resorts have under-cover attractions for visitors to enjoy when the weather is not so good. Whether it’s the pier at Weston-Super-Mare, the Tate Gallery at St Ives or the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton – they all have interesting all-weather activities or entertainments which Minehead currently lacks.

“The benefit of our proposals, as well as giving the town a vibrant centre for visitors, is that we are equally keeping the needs and wishes of our community at the heart of the project. It will be a fully accessible all-year asset for everyone.

“However, to make this massive project a reality we need show that it has the backing of people in our community. This is the chance for local people to help transform the town centre for the better.”

To make a pledge, simply fill in and send off the form to Jenny Lennon-Wood, Chair of Minehead Development Trust, c/o Amherst & Shapland Limited, 4 Irnham Road, Minehead, Somerset TA24 5DG. Forms are available online at www.westsomersetonline.gov.uk/MDT or paper copies are available from Minehead Town Council in The Parade, Minehead, and West Somerset Council’s offices in Williton or Summerland Road in Minehead.