Stafford's Shire Hall set for new lease of life with £1.6 million funding
Stafford's Shire Hall is finally set to get a new lease of life after a £1.6 million funding boost to create a hub for small businesses.
County council bosses are preparing to transform the library at the back of the building in Stafford town centre into a space for local business start-ups, after receiving the cash from a new Government fund.
But they have warned that a full redevelopment of site is still some way off, with more than £5m still needed to bring other parts of the building back into use.
The 18th century building has been mainly shut to the public since summer 2017, with only occasional events such as art exhibitions taking place.
It is understood that the library section is not the subject of protective regulations, as unlike the rest of the building it does not have Grade II listed status.
This means work could start in the near future pending planning permission being granted, with council chiefs already examining ways to get the scheme up and running.
They say they intend to provide "excellent shared facilities and services" for businesses, and also support them with access to information and expertise to help them develop.
Philip White, deputy leader of Staffordshire County Council and cabinet member for economy and skills, said: "This announcement is a welcome first step towards our goal of a vibrant building with a viable long-term future that also projects the heritage of our county town.
"We have been working for some time with partners to find possible future sources of funding for the phases of the project, so we are very pleased this bid has been so well received by the Government."
He added: "At a time when town centres everywhere are looking to make best use of their properties, the idea of using Shire Hall flexibly for a variety of purposes makes sense and Staffordshire’s reputation for delivering its infrastructure projects means central government can be confident that money invested here will be used effectively."
Stafford MP Theo Clarke, who has lobbied Ministers for funding for the site, said the cash offered "a real opportunity" to get the necessary upgrades underway.
"It is clear that there is still a lot of work to be done but this money is a vital step in the regeneration of this local landmark," she added. "The award of this funding shows my, the county council and, ultimately, the Government’s commitment to Stafford and the reopening of Shire Hall."
Staffordshire County Council has been working with partners including Stafford Borough Council and the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership to attract funding for a £7m revamp of the hall.
Other plans include transforming the area at the front of the building into an events space, and building a restaurant and bar in the section currently occupied by the vaults.
Prior to the coronavirus lockdown it had hosted occasional art and architecture exhibitions and court re-enactments, and was used as a medical area for the Ironman event.
After encountering financial problems it was closed in May 2017 to the despair of people in the town, many of whom attended a farewell vigil outside its gates.
Staffordshire and the Black Country have received more than £37m from the Getting Better Fund. Other projects include £2.9m for a healthcare project in Stafford and £3m for the i54 Western Extension.