European cash boost for group running town community hall

A community-run hall in a West Yorkshire market town is to receive a European cash boost of more than £1m.

Hebden Bridge Community Association trustees have signed the legal paperwork for a capital grant of £1,224,808 from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

An additional revenue grant of about £34,000 is part of the package.

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The grant is a timely boost which coincides with the first anniversary of the association taking control of the historic building.

Hebden Bridge Community Association took over ownership and management of Hebden Bridge Town Hall from Calderdale Council on April 1 last year.

The ERDF grant for enterprise units and business facilities means that the association has now raised more than £3.2m for the Town Hall site.

Grant and loan funding of a little over £2m was agreed with the Communitybuilders fund at the end of last year.

Together, the total funding package allows the creation of purpose-built community and enterprise facilities for the town, as well as work to restore the existing Town Hall building.

Peter Hirst, chair of Hebden Bridge Community Association, said: “We’re extremely pleased to have been able to negotiate this investment in our town’s future. A great deal of hard work has been necessary, but at last we’ve got there.”

Following the award of planning consent for the development last autumn, the association has been developing detailed design work and undertaking the tendering process for the building contractor.

It hopes to announce the name of the chosen company very shortly and building work is scheduled to begin on site in mid-April.

Hebden Bridge is one of the first communities in Britain to be responsible for its own town hall through an asset transfer agreement.

The volunteer-led association’s success in attracting the European funding is a major achievement, and demonstrates the benefits which can follow when a council’s assets are transferred to community groups.

Mr Hirst warned, however, that asset transfer of public buildings was not something to undertake lightly.

“We’d probably rather that our public buildings remained in the stewardship of our council, but if asset transfer is necessary to save them that’s what we’ll have to do,” he said.

Since taking over Hebden Bridge Town Hall last year, the association has enabled considerably more usage to be made of the landmark Victorian listed building, including licensing it for weddings and civil partnerships.

The association is run by a group of trustees elected by its 550-strong membership, made up of local individuals and organisations.

It hopes to create a “hub” for the Hebden Bridge community where there will be access to services from Calderdale and the town/parish councils, facilities for community groups and a base for small enterprises.

Members and friends of the project are being invited to a briefing session on the building work timetable at the town hall on Saturday April 16 at 11am.

The European funding has been awarded as part of Europe’s support for the region’s economic development through the Yorkshire and Humber ERDF Programme 2007-13.

Malcolm Taylor, who manages the programme, said: “The European Union provides investment support to help regions improve their economies and help local businesses, people and communities to improve their prospects.

“I’m sure that this investment, like the others we are making with ERDF in this region, will make a positive impact encouraging local enterprise in Hebden Bridge in the years to come.”

The ERDF was set up in 1975 to stimulate economic development in less prosperous regions of the European Union.