Thu 28 Feb 2019

An organisation is now working in the heart of a town centre it was set up to promote, develop and support.

Newcastle-under-Lyme Business Improvement District (BID) has become the latest tenant of Support Staffordshire’s community and voluntary sector hub at the historic Guildhall in Newcastle.

The BID – which was founded in 2015 after a ballot with local businesses and delivers a range of projects – is renting the first floor of the iconic landmark after moving from the Queen’s Gardens Business Centre, at the bottom of the Ironmarket, earlier this week.

It has carried out a small refurbishment programme involving the removal of two pods and the creation of a large meeting room – this can be used by BID levy payers for free between 9am and 5pm and is available for hire in the evenings and at weekends – and is also providing free Wi-Fi for the building.

Support Staffordshire, a county-wide voluntary sector support organisation, is managing tenants at the Guildhall for 12 months while its long-term future is decided. Existing tenants alongside Support Staffordshire include Staffordshire Adults Autistic Society, Moneyline, the Shaw Trust and Rethink.

Anticipated income levels are expected to cover running costs but the Council is still responsible for buildings insurance, external repairs and statutory internal work. It has provided practical help with IT requirements and has also funded repairs to some of the windows, with improvements to the roof currently underway.

Amy Williams, BID Manager, said: “We’re really happy to be moving into the Guildhall and supporting this great project. It’s such an important building in the town and the BID’s presence there will allow it to be more visible and accessible, especially in relation to our street ambassadors. We didn’t have any meeting space before so it will be great to have that freedom and offer an extra service to businesses. It’s also nice to be working with other community groups to keep the Guildhall playing a useful role to the public.”

Council Leader Simon Tagg said: “I’m really pleased to see the Guildhall being used to almost full capacity so soon after it’s reopened as a third sector hub. It’s great news all round – the BID is renting a significant amount of space, in turn playing a major role in keeping the Guildhall open, and in return has a premium presence right in the centre of Newcastle.”

The reception, managed by the Friends of the Guildhall, is staffed by volunteers from 10am to 4pm during the week and is available for hire for public events in the evenings and at weekends. The first event takes place on Saturday, 9 March to mark Fairtrade Fortnight – there will be a cake competition, with cakes being made by cafes in the town centre, which will be judged by Mayor Gill Heesom. Visitors can taste different teas and coffees and buy Fairtrade items.

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. Staff have since relocated to Castle House.

Jill Norman, Support Staffordshire’s local manager, added: “It’s great that the BID will be an important part of the services offered from The Guildhall. The Wi-Fi they are providing will be really useful for those renting the customer service desks to offer advice and support services, and these are still available to book.”

To book the reception or upstairs meeting room, or express an interest in helping with providing reception cover, please visit the Guildhall, call 01782  632895, 07983 983 840  or e-mail fotguildhall@gmail.com. Anyone interested in renting a customer service desk can e-mail Jill at jill.norman@supportstaffordshire.org.uk .