A £2.6m scheme to transform historic former grammar school into community hub has received a huge boost as a council approved a move to temporarily underwrite the scheme with £500,000 of taxpayers money.
North Yorkshire County Council’s executive agreed to loan the Richmondshire Building Preservation Trust funds for the conversion of grade II listed Old Grammar School in Richmond, after hearing there was a danger of the building’s fabric deteriorating further if conservation work did not start in the coming months.
Members were told while the trust had raised more than £340,000 towards £800,000 of match funding needed for a £1.8m National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, it could take several years to raise the remainder of the funds and lottery bosses were insistent on the match funding being guaranteed.
The Gothic revival-style building is widely viewed as important due to its location by Richmond’s much visited riverside walks and to mark an institution thought to date back to the 14th century as one of the first free grammar schools in England.
In a planning application for the scheme, which has been submitted to Richmondshire District Council, the trust’s has revealed detailed plans to turn the former school into a community hub, with flexible spaces, for activities and events throughout the day and into the evening.
The application states: “It will be full of life during the week, weekends and throughout the seasons. Commercial uses to make the project viable and self-supporting, include a hostel with accessible accommodation and a cafe. Rooms will be available for hire for community use, weddings, events, meetings, societies etc.
“It will be an attractive venue for weekend residential courses, with its range of flexible rooms, catering and on site accommodation.”
In addition, an activity planner has been appointed to support the establishment of events and an interpretation specialist will provide opportunities for people to learn about the history of the Old Grammar School.”
A trust spokesman said: “The project will bring back a much loved heritage building into use and halt any dangerous deterioration of its fabric.”
Historic England has thrown its weight behind the scheme saying it “very much welcomes the repair and re-invigoration of this pivotal, but presently disused and deteriorating grade II listed building at the heart of Richmond’s conservation area”.
The county council’s executive heard while the project would benefit the Richmond community and have cultural benefits, it was necessary to ensure the loan would have an interest rate comparable to commercial ones.
In addition, the the trust would be “incentivised to keep the loan facility to a minimum; and to redeem the debt as quickly as possible” and that the loan would be secured upon The Station at Richmond, another historic building which the trust has transformed.
The council’s leadership agreed to the loan after hearing the trust had “an impressive track record”, but also being warned the council would face having to write off the loan should the trust run into financial difficulties.