BEHIND THE NEWS: Ulverston's town hall and Coronation Hall

Ulverston Town Hall

Ulverston Town Hall

First published in News The Westmorland Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

It was announced two weeks ago that Ulverston is about to lose its town hall. Emotional local councillors were outraged at the sacrifice of the town’s heritage and cultural history. PATRICK CHRISTYS looks at how the decision may prove to be a positive move that could benefit the town for years to come.

FOR 120 years Ulverston’s councillors have met in the town hall on Queen Street.

They made difficult decisions for the good of the town in a building that has survived two world wars. But their toughest decision came on July 21 when they agreed in principle to leave their home and move into the Coronation Hall.

South Lakeland District Council (SLDC) could no longer afford to fund both buildings – the Coro alone costs £1,000 a day to manage.

Councillors had to choose which one to save and said they felt ‘blackmailed’ into an ‘impossible decision’.

Coun Phil Lister said: “I have got a gun held to my head and the trigger is cocked.”

However, what was seen as a devastating blow for Ulverston could prove to be one of the most positive moves in the town’s history.

For Ulverston Town Council’s move has saved the Coronation Hall – the focal point of the town’s social and cultural scene.

After the town council take up residence, management of the popular ‘Coro’ will be handed over to a social enterprise company which means it will be eligible for more grants and funding than ever before.

It also frees-up the town hall to be converted into much-needed, affordable town centre homes.

This comes at the same time as a multi-million pound biopharmaceutical plant is to be built by GlaxoSmithKline, which is set to bring hundreds of jobs to the area.

If big business is going to come to Ulverston it has to be able to offer a social life and affordable homes for the workers – the town council’s move does both.

Coun Judith Pickthall said: “The town hall is a very underused building and if our move ensures the Coro thrives then I’m all for it. We are working towards a business improvement district. The town is on the up. Businesses want a strong town centre and cultural centre - that’s important if big companies are trying to attract people to live here. The future is bright, but then again I am an optimist!”

SLDC has been accused of forcing the town council out of the town hall, but David Skykes, the authority’s Director of People and Places, says it is all about seeing ‘the big picture’.

“If the town hall could be used for affordable housing then it’s meeting a local need,” said Mr Skyes.

“It’s a new era for this building, not the end of the road. The harsh reality is we are driven by resources and we need to get the best value out of them.

“We are seeing Ulverston playing a really big role in the financial success of the whole area - it’s a hotspot. It’s folly for people to underestimate Ulverston and we don’t. It’s arguably the most exciting part of South Lakeland.”

It is likely that a registered social landlord could be in charge of the development which means the new homes could become socially rented properties which would be affordable to anyone.

Archie Workman, chairman of the Ulverston Business Alliance, believes the town council’s move puts Ulverston on the brink of something special.

“Local people don’t realise what’s going to hit the town,” he said. “It’s going to be a gold rush. Ulverston needs to look forward not backwards and think and look at things differently. More people want to live in the town centre and walk to work and the town hall would provide that.”

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