Express & Star

Work under way to build enterprise centre

Work to create a huge creative industries hub for dozens of companies under the roofs of historic Walsall buildings is under way.

The inside of The Guildhall in Walsall

Walsall Council and non-profit CIC Urban Hax are transforming the vacant Guildhall in the town centre, along with a neighbouring former police station and ancillary buildings into the Creative Industries Enterprise Centre.

The aspiration is to provide a café, gallery space, conference facilities and areas for machinery that will be available for use by local makers and creative industries.

The Guildhall, at the top of the High Street at the junction with Goodall Street, was last used as Sofia’s Italian Restaurant but has been closed for a number of years.

Both the building and the former police station are grade II listed and developers said feedback has shown people are happy to see them coming back into use.

Around £5.5 million funding has been secured from the Arts Council and the Department of Culture Media and Sport to deliver the scheme with work being carried out to secure more grants.

Work has so far involved stripping out the building ahead of drawing up the planned layout for the centre.

Urban Hax is run by co-directors Geoff Henderson and Deta Ward and they currently run a community makerspace on Green Lane.

They have a number of creative businesses run from there including a guitar maker, a fashion designer, a leather worker, a photographer, a graphic designer and have plans to set up three more makerspaces across the borough in the next couple of years.

It is anticipated around 50 companies could be set up across the five floors of the centre – offering 10,000 square feet of lettable space – once it has opened.

Mr Henderson said: “We had an independent business plan produced where they went out and did consultation. I think there will be a queue at the door.

“Feedback has taken two forms. One is ‘thank goodness they are doing something with the Guildhall’. And the other is ‘thank goodness they are supporting creative industries’.

“So we are confident it will not just nurture people from the communities of Walsall, I think we will pull people from further afield.

“We already have people from Birmingham who use our services. It could be a case of ‘build it and they will come’.

“If this is done well, and I think it will be done well, it’ll be a magnet.

The business plan predicts about 50 companies and how big those companies could be one person or two and three.

“What’s really important is if companies come here and grow, they need to grow on and take units suitable for them because we don’t want to lose them. We want to build a cluster and keep people here.”

He added: “We’ve had the demolition team in to some ‘reveals’ so we can see the extent of the work that needs to be done.

“The new creative industries enterprise centre will offer substantial floorspace for a wide variety of creative businesses and makers, from leather workers and woodworkers to fashion designers and digital artists.

“We will be able to invest in more equipment and machinery to help support local creatives to grow their businesses and I hope that the central location of the Guildhall will attract more and more people to explore their creativity.”

Councillor Adrian Andrew, deputy leader and portfolio holder for regeneration at Walsall Council, said: “This project is a great example of how we can diversify town centre buildings away from retail offerings, to provide facilities that will help local people access resources to build creative businesses.

“Walsall is a real hub of creativity and I’m excited to see what opportunities the new Creative Industries Enterprise Centre will create.”

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