Residents in South Ribble are to be asked whether Worden Hall should be turned into a community facility, a modest events venue or an exclusive wedding facility to which people would travel “the length and breadth of the country” to get married.
Consultants have concluded that they are the three most viable options for bringing the historic Leyland building back into use and securing its long-term future.
READ MORE >>> Back to the drawing board for Worden Hall after Masons talks are halted
South Ribble Borough Council will launch a public consultation into the proposals next week, which will include drop-in events giving details of what each of them would mean in practice.
Under all of the options, a conservatory which was added to the hall more than thirty years ago would be demolished and replaced with a courtyard.
But that is where the similarity between the three suggestions ends, with each of them requiring varying levels of investment by the council - and resulting in different degrees of access for the public.
Under the cheapest option - a community facility - the authority would pay out £1.3m to make the building fit for purpose. It would be used almost exclusively by community groups and run at a modest loss of around £15,000 per year.
The proposal for a prestigious wedding venue would require the council to stump up £3.7m, but would turn an annual profit - to be shared with any operator - of more than a quarter of a million pounds.
Cabinet member for assets, Matthew Tomlinson, said he was “genuinely open” to any of the options which are to be presented to the public.
“We’re now going into quite an intense period of public consultation and I’m looking forward to hearing what people have to say.
“All the options have pros and cons, as you would expect, but at the end of this [process] this building will be back in use - it will be safe and weatherproof and we’ll be investing in one of our finest assets.
“It’s an iconic building in an award-winning park and it’s the council’s responsibility to look after it - and we haven’t been doing that,” Cllr Tomlinson added.
The Grade II-listed building has lain largely unused for the past seven years and fallen into disrepair. The previous Conservative administration last year commissioned the report on which the Labour ruling group is now consulting.
The Conservatives advertised the eighteenth century hall as an “investment opportunity” back in January and the Leyland Freemasons were revealed as the preferred bidder shortly after May’s local elections - with a pledge to invest “hundreds of thousands of pounds” to restore the site and open part of it to community groups.
Labour called a halt to that process and council leader Paul Foster said he wanted the council to “put all of its efforts into finding a community use” for the hall.
Cllr Tomlinson said he could “look residents in the eye” whichever option is chosen, but accepted that the exclusive wedding proposal would leave locals “locked out”.
“But they’re locked out at the moment - and have been for seven years.
“The exclusive wedding venue is the most expensive proposal, but potentially gives the biggest returns. Like any commercial investment, you have to weigh up the money you have to put in with the potential money you get out - and that’s something we'll have to consider before we make a final decision.”
While stressing that he did not want “preclude the outcome of the consultation”, Cllr Tomlinson also said that the second option - a small wedding and events venue - would be likely to include some community use.
“There would be days when rooms like the Marsden Room would be available for hire by community groups - so that does, in a way, give you the best of both worlds.”
The outcome of the consultation is expected to be brought to a cabinet meeting in October.
HAVE YOUR SAY
The public consultation will run from 9am on 19th August until 9am on 9th September.
A series of drop-in events will be held in Worden Hall’s Derby Wing between 2pm and 7pm on each of the following dates:
Thursday 22nd August
Thursday 29th August
Thursday 5th September
For more details, visit southribble.gov.uk/wordenhall
WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?
Peter McHugh, South Ribble Borough Council’s assistant director of property and housing, lays out each of the three options.
OPTION 1 - COMMUNITY VENUE
“There would be a number of outbuildings which we would rent to small businesses, including craft workshops and start-up businesses - and existing tenants would remain. The Marsden Room would be used as a flexible events space and the foyer would be demolished and refurbished to create a new entrance and breakout space.
“We could create first floor storage and accommodation space and look at the Derby Wing as a reception area.
“The community would have pretty much exclusive use.”
£1.3m - capital investment
£62,000 - annual income
£77,000 - annual costs
-£15,000 - loss per year
OPTION 2 - SMALL WEDDINGS AND EVENTS
“Some of the outbuildings would remain and the Marsden Room would be used as a wedding venue and private hire. The existing cafe would remain.
“There would be some accommodation space created to allow the wedding party to remain together - but not a significant amount. We would also need to install a commercial kitchen to make a self-contained wedding venue.”
£2.1m - capital investment
£360,000 - annual income
£400,000 - annual costs
-£40,000 - loss per year
OPTION 3 - EXCLUSIVE WEDDING VENUE
“This would be a destination of choice - not a local or even a regional wedding venue, but a national one. We’ve seen evidence from other places that people will travel the length and breadth of Britain in order to have their wedding at one of these super-exclusive destinations.
“It would require a far more radical approach to Worden Hall and the estate. A number of the outbuildings would be converted for wedding party accommodation. People want to be part of the large wedding party and socialise together.
“The Marsden Room would be used for wedding receptions and private hire.
“We’d have to look at the impact on the existing cafe and other businesses and we would want to engage with those businesses at the earliest opportunity in order to understand how we could help relocate them to other places - and we’d be happy to do that.”
£3.7m - capital investment
£810,000 - annual income
£540,000 - annual costs
£270,000 - profit per year (shared with any operator of the venue)
All of the above figures are indicative and based on “worst case scenario”, Mr. McHugh said.