What is the Wisbech High Street Project?
The Wisbech High Street Project has been set up by Fenland District Council following the award of a £1.9m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund
Working with High Street property owners, the project will restore a number of buildings on the High Street, bring new uses back into empty properties and transform the derelict former Cook’s Butchers site at number 24 into an exciting new area for public use.
Alongside the High Street building improvements there will be a series of heritage-related activities for local community learning and participation.
Where has the £1.9 million come from?
The High Street Project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Funds Townscape Heritage Scheme with additional financial support from Fenland District Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, Wisbech Town Council and the Wisbech Society.
Townscape Heritage schemes help to reverse the decline of our best-loved historic townscapes. Under the terms of the grant awarded to this scheme money can only be spent on the application area – Wisbech High Street.
What is the money being spent on?
Each property was assessed during the application for the Townscape Heritage Scheme and given a priority rating. The buildings which were identified as High Priority are the gap site at No 24 and No’s 11 and 12 High Street – both of which have suffered complete collapse at the rear. These will be the initial focus of the project and addressed as a priority.
The project will award around £2m of grants to be spent on the physical improvements to the High Street buildings. The amount spent on each building will be determined by the condition of the building at the time of assessment and relies on the engagement of the property owners – they will need to apply to us for a grant towards repairs.
Eligible works include repairs to roofs, chimneys, leadwork, downpipes, gutters, parapets, stonework, brickwork and repointing. The project also encourages grant applications for traditional repair of windows, doors and external joinery, including historic shopfronts, with all repairs undertaken using traditional materials replicating original patterns and details.
Developments at 24 High Street, “The Gap”, are costing the project around £300,000 to £350,000 which includes all site preparation works, support to adjacent buildings, build costs and all planning and architects fees.
Although this is a temporary structure, the main cost element is the fabrication of the steel frame – a frame which has been carefully designed to support a future building after 10 years and therefore is seen as a long-term investment for the High Street from this one-off funding opportunity.
Why is The Gap site not being replaced with a permanent building?
There is a complicated background to the site at 24 High Street which precludes us from fully redeveloping the site at this time. In addition to this, the cost of rebuilding on the site would significantly reduce the amount of HLF Grant money available to the other buildings including the two collapsed units opposite. By developing the site as a piece of public realm we will be offering the community a unique space at ground floor as well as an attraction with the viewing platform offering spectacular views across the town and beyond.
Was there any public consultation on plans for The Gap?
Over the course of 2013, 2014 and 2015 numerous consultation events were held.
In December 2013 an event was held at the Wisbech Christmas Market. Local residents were asked to identify those buildings which they felt required regeneration and those which they cherished.
Events were held on Thursday 12th June and Saturday 14th June, in the Market Place during the Thursday and Saturday markets. The event was supported by a number of the Consultative Group members, such as the Wisbech Society and Friends of the Institute, who helped to set up, generate interest and talk to the local community about the proposed funding application and to ask residents what they wanted to see in “The Gap”.
During the 2015 Rose Fair, members of the Consultative Group and Core Team attended the event to raise awareness of the project, provide information and hand out flyers.
Why is there no lift proposed in the plans?
There is a limited budget available to ensure the site at 24 High Street is addressed and other properties benefit fully from the scheme. This has meant certain difficult decisions regarding the build have had to be made – this includes omission of a lift.
As the site will not be staffed on non-event days or when not being hired, there would be no-one available to ensure the safety of anyone using the lift or to ensure that anti-social behaviour was not occurring in or around it. Also, there are no additional funds available to undertake the costly annual servicing and maintenance a lift would require.
For those unable to gain access to the platform there will be large high quality images on the walls which show the views. There will also be more available on the project website. At present we are looking into the options for a roof-mounted camera and display screen (or remote access via mobile devices) for the ground floor.
Who is involved in the Wisbech High Street Project?
A Core Team was established in 2013 as the main working group for the project and will continue to be so throughout the delivery phase. The Core Team includes the Project Champion, Project Sponsor, FDC officers, The Wisbech Society, Historic England, Townscape Heritage Project Officer and specialist advisors as required. The team meets every 2 months.
An extensive Consultative Group was formed at the start of 2014 in order to embed the project within the local community and secure community ownership, particularly in relation to the heritage-related activities the project will deliver. The Consultative Group will continue to meet every quarter throughout the 4 year delivery phase.
Who will manage The Gap once the work has been completed?
There is a management team called “Mind the Gap” made up of representatives from the Wisbech Society, Town Council, FDC, Ferry Project and Street Pride. This group will be responsible for the management and maintenance, booking and running of The Gap. This group meets regularly to develop plans for the long term use of the site.
What could I use the new community space for?
The ground floor space of The Gap can be used by community groups for a variety of events or activities. Ideas include pop-up shops or craft workshops, art exhibitions by schools or artists, performances by theatre or school groups, photography exhibitions and any other ideas the Wisbech community may have. The site can also be privately hired for parties, functions, business or corporate launches or events.
What else is happening as part of the project?
There is also an exciting Activity Plan to accompany the capital investment being made on the High Street which will provide an opportunity for community engagement in heritage-related activities. The project will deliver these activities over 4 years which include traditional construction skills training, archaeological investigation, photography, exhibitions and open days as well as close involvement with community groups and schools to promote heritage learning. More information on how to get involved can be found on the website (www.highstreetwisbech.org.uk).
What are the timescales?
The project funding lasts for 4 years after which time the project will come to an end. We are now at the start of year 2.
We expect to see works start at The Gap in the Spring of 2018 (subject to planning) and hope to have the site open to the public by late 2018/early 2019.
Other works which have been already been approved and are being funded by the High Street Project include residential conversion and new shop fronts at 13-17 High Street which should begin in early-mid 2018.
What long-term benefits will the Wisbech High Street Project bring to the community?
By developing the site as a piece of public realm we will be offering the community a unique space at ground floor which can be used for performances, exhibitions, displays and demonstrations. Bespoke seating (which can be removed or repositioned for performances) offers a place to sit and relax or eat lunch whilst appreciating the exhibitions.
The viewing platform will offer spectacular views across the town and beyond which will become an attraction for local residents and visitors to the town.
The events and training offered as part of the project Activity Plan will provide the opportunity for the community to learn new heritage-related skills and gain unique experiences. For example, we will be opening up the tunnels under the town for investigation and mapping, funding heritage construction skills courses with the local college and documenting changes to the High Street and the town through photographic workshops led by a professional photographer.