Craven’s priceless historical artefacts could hold the key for a lottery funded transformation of Skipton Town Hall into a cultural hub.
Plans to turn the Grade II listed hall into a cultural centre are under way – and its Shakespeare First Folio, along with other art treasures, could mean a successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The original facade of the building is also set to be restored, following the relocation of the disabled access to Jerry Croft.
Craven District Council, which last year decided against handing the building over to a Lancashire-based historical trust to manage, has allocated more than £400,000 towards first-phase improvements.
“The impact of a good cultural hub would be enormous for Skipton,” said Coun Simon Myers (Cons), lead member for the town hall. “Good cultural centres attract people with money, and that is what the businesses need.”
A £70,000 project to restore and repaint all the window frames is due to begin at the end of the month and should be completed in time for the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in July.
A planning application to replace the modern toilet block at the Jerry Croft side of the building has just been submitted and the scheme includes a new entrance, with disabled access, and a new £125,000 heating system is to be fitted.
Work, which it is hoped will start later this year, will mean the upper floor becoming the permanent home of Skipton Town Council.
Permission for a replacement fire exit also on Jerry Croft has been approved and, following rubber-stamping by the Secretary of State, will lead to the ending of a temporary limit on numbers on events in the main hall.
The building next to the town hall will be let out to a variety of users – so generating income for the council and releasing council tax payers of the £190,000 per year maintenance cost.
But a long-term ambition is to seek lottery cash to make the most of Craven’s museum and art gallery collections and develop the building as a cultural hub.
Coun Myers said he was determined to see the end of decades of neglect of the town hall. “It is intolerable how the building has not been maintained for 30 years and by whichever party has been in power,” he said.
“But, I am confident that the future of the hall is safe.”
And he said it would be the museum and art gallery’s Shakespeare First Folio – one of only five in the world on permanent display, although currently on loan to York Museum – along with art and geological collections that should secure heritage lottery money.
“We could hold as many tea dances as we liked in the auditorium, but it wouldn’t get us a penny, but what the heritage lottery people get excited about is our Shakespeare Folio, the Roebuck Collection and the geological collection,” he said.
A successful injection of lottery cash would mean the transformation of the art gallery and museum in a bid to encourage more people to visit and to allow the permanent display of art collections - currently in storage at a cost to the council.
Coun Myers is also keen to see the front of the building, which at one time sported a decorative portico, restored to its original state.
“The lift and handrails were put in cheaply and as a knee-jerk reaction to disability requirements, they did it as cheaply as possible and actually cut a chunk out of the stone steps to achieve it. Once the new disabled access is installed in Jerry Croft, we will be able to restore the facade,” he said.
Paul Ellis, Craven District Council’s director of services, said: “We are very pleased with progress to date and the windows refurbishment is the next phase of the council’s investment in the building. The work will be completed ahead of the Tour de France in July and will give the building a major uplift.”
He added the council was also in detailed discussions with potential occupiers and hoped to announce who they were in the near future.
Work to replace the fire escape would start as soon as it received the go-ahead from the Secretary of State and should be completed by the end of May.