Farewell vigil as Stafford's Shire Hall locked up
A vigil was held as dozens turned out to say goodbye to an 18th century building closed by the council.
People lit candles and sang songs to say goodbye to Shire Hall in Stafford, which has been officially closed by Staffordshire County Council for the first time since it opened in 1798.
In it's 219 years in Stafford town centre, the Grade II listed building has been used as a courthouse, art gallery, library and cinema venue.
Those who turned out said they felt let down by the council's lack of imagination and their failure to make the most of the building.
Trevor Fisher, who is part of the People's Assembly Against Austerity group, organised the gathering.
He said: "I had a hippyish idea of going in when it closed with candles and having a vigil and singing a few protest songs and saying goodbye to the building.
"We are concerned that it's not just a closing of the hall – the whole of the centre of Stafford is becoming desolate, just look around at all the empty shops.
"If you go into Guild Hall shopping centre, there are just empty shops, the further north you go, the less shops there are. We need to pull people into the centre of Stafford.
"I just don't understand their strategy. I understand the government make cuts and doesn't have much money, but the council have no imagination, no planning and not making the most of what's here – this is just a cost cutting exercise."
The group have added their own sign on the front of the building, saying 'closed for now'.
"We put the sign up as we don't accept this will be closed forever."
David Williams, who was selected as Labour's candidate in their recent failed election bid, said he spoke to people at the gathering who shared their concerns of the impact of the "relentless austerity in Stafford."
He added: "Many residents are quite rightly horrified at the closure of what many people consider to be the jewel in Stafford's crown.
"To close the Shire Hall is yet another very disappointing decision that has been made against the wishes of the community.
"Rather than closing such an important building, the Shire Hall should be at the forefront of much needed renewal of our town centre."
National experts from Prince Charles' Prince’s Regeneration Trust charity have now been appointed to consider the future of the historic building's future.
The Trust has been commissioned by Staffordshire County Council to assess possible future uses of the Grade II listed building, the benefits and risks of different approaches and how they might be funded.
The charity, founded by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, has worked on more than 90 projects in two decades, including the Middleport Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent which is used as the setting for BBC TV’s Great Pottery Throw Down.
Ian Parry, Staffordshire County Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet member for Finance and Corporate Matters, said: “The county council is committed to ensuring Shire Hall is maintained and preserved for future generations.
“The intention is to find ways of keeping it, and the buildings behind it, busy, successful and able to have a viable future that also projects the heritage of our county town.
“The Prince’s Regeneration Trust is a world-leader in revitalising historic buildings and I am confident that this will produce the best solution for a sustainable future for the building.”
He added: “At the same time we are already talking to other public and private sector partners to discuss various possibilities and it’s fair to say there has been an encouraging response.”