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Monday, 21 April 2014

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Theatre and sports centre ideas for ruined Cumbrian hall

A sports centre, a theatre and a stonemasonry school were among the radical ideas put forward to breathe new life into Workington Hall.

Heritage group photo
Workington Heritage Group outside the hall, with Tony Wareing, back right

The suggestions came at an inaugural workshop this week which revealed a strong will to turn the neglected ruin – where Mary Queen of Scots spent her last night of freedom – into a community facility.

The meeting on Tuesday at the Helena Thompson identified many new possible uses for the former seat of the Curwen family and its grounds.

Volunteer Brian Hemming, a retired public sector property and estates manager, will now put together a new strategic plan based on the results.

“No idea will be disregarded out of hand,” he said.

“We’re at the very beginning of a long journey and of a staged development which will take 10 years.

“Big investment is needed but nobody, either private or public, will come up with any money unless we can clearly demonstrate how it will be made to work.

“I think the workshop went well. People are enthusiastic in looking to the future and I have been very impressed by the way that people are now offering to help develop a plan for the benefit of Workington and west Cumbria.”

Mr Hemming’s plan will be no longer than 10 pages – but it will stimulate further discussion and then form the basis for engaging professional consultants.

A consultant’s feasibility study will probably come with a £10,000 bill and – although the source of that money is yet to be identified – it is understood to be “already available.”

Tony Wareing, chairman of Workington Heritage Group, which hosted the meeting, said: “We would be looking to engage the consultants to try and find us the really big grants from public and private sectors and to manage the project.

“The example model we are looking at was the redevelopment of a castle in Cardigan in north Wales. The total bill for that project came out at £10m – but the cost to the community was a mere £150,000.”

He described the workshop as “just fantastic”.

It drew up five goals under the headings of heritage, sustainability, architecture, involvement and finance. One of the first essentials, it was agreed, would be parking and access for all, including the disabled.

Sections of the Grade I listed building date from the 11th century. Any new building work would have to be supervised by English Heritage.

Parts of the building were designed by the prolific 18th-century architect John Carr while others are medieval, including part of a peel tower built in the time of Border warfare.

The hall is now owned by Allerdale council and is currently undergoing work to both stabilise it and to remedy previous sub-standard restoration work.

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