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New vision for Wensum Lodge

08 January 2019

Proposals to transform Norwich’s under-used Wensum Lodge site into a creative hub and bring fresh investment into the city centre are set to move a step closer next week.

New shared spaces will allow small creative and arts organisations and community groups to use the site, as well as Norfolk County Council being able to offer an enhanced number of creative adult education courses there.

Members of Norfolk County Council’s Communities Committee will be asked to agree a vision for the sympathetic redevelopment of the site which it is hoped will transform it into a thriving cultural asset for residents and creative businesses as well as bringing in additional funding to the county.

Wensum Lodge has been home to Norfolk’s adult education services - Norfolk Community Learning Services - for more than 40 years and is held in great affection by users and Norwich residents.  It has built a strong reputation for creative crafts and is an important community asset.  In recent years the site has been utilised less, due to courses being offered more in the communities around Norfolk. Remedial repair works on the historic buildings are proving costly for Norfolk County Council.

Architects have now developed a vision for the site, which would help to ensure its longevity and realise its potential as an important community asset for the region.  Proposals include building on the existing adult education offer on the site and its strong reputation for creative crafts.

As well as continuing to offer space to run adult education courses, it is hoped to create shared working spaces and short-term rental space for start-up creative and arts organisations.  The new creative and community hub would incorporate maker spaces, exhibition and possibly retail opportunities.  The chance to utilise outdoor spaces on the site, to host craft markets or outdoor performances, are also set to be explored.

By bringing in additional income to the site, NCLS would be able to allocate more resource to community provision in other areas of the county.

Complementing and continuing to enhance the King Street area of the city, several of the buildings, which are of significant historical importance, would be preserved and protected for future generations.  This includes the buildings used originally by Youngs Brewery (known as The Tuns, The Maltings and The Stables) and The Music House, thought to be the oldest residential property in Norwich.

Norfolk County Council employed architects to test the feasibility of the project and come up with an initial vision of what the site may look like (pictured).

The NCLS Steering Group, which includes Cllr Margaret Dewsbury Chairman of the Communities Committee and Cllr Chris Jones whose ward includes Wensum Lodge, have been kept informed as the plans have developed and members were also invited to tour the existing facilities and gain a better understanding of the site and its possibilities for the future.

Ideas were also shared with members of Norfolk Arts Forum and stakeholders including Norwich City Council, Arts Council England and Norwich University of the Arts.

Support for the sympathetic redevelopment has been widespread, with it being seen as complementary to wider developments of a similar nature in the city.

Councillor Margaret Dewsbury said:  “We believe that Wensum Lodge is a unique regional economic asset which will be highly attractive to a number of external investors and funders.   Any ongoing programme of adult learning courses could be enhanced and grown by the addition of other creative and arts organisations.”

Wensum Lodge is well placed to deliver against many of the goals within the six key priorities set out in Culture Drives Growth: The East’s Cultural Strategy 2016-22 endorsed by the New Anglia LEP.

The Wensum Lodge redevelopment would deliver strongly against the Government’s Industrial Strategy, particularly around the skills agenda, workforce development and the opportunities for the future growth of the Creative Industries in the UK.  Investment in Norfolk’s cultural sector via Start East and other developments mean that creative start-ups and arts organisations could soon be looking for new spaces to be able to develop businesses, create work and offer skills development.

The Communities Committee will be asked on Wednesday 16 January to approve the proposed vision for redevelopment and agree the next steps which are surveys and feasibility studies.

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