Two years ago, residents of Southwold, Reydon and the surrounding parishes embarked on an extraordinary journey to buy Southwold Hospital back from the NHS. The Edwardian cottage hospital had been built and maintained by the community since the end of the 19th century. The NHS closed it in November, 2015. The nightmare scenario was that it would be sold to a developer who would tear it down and build second homes in its place.
Southwold has the highest number of second homes in the country – about 60% of its housing stock. This has led to huge house price inflation, a declining population (now only about 800 residents), and the oldest population in England and Wales. There are many young people living with their families in outlying parishes and towns who commute to work in Southwold. To be able to live in Southwold could transform their futures and revive a dying community.
The first step was to conduct a six month feasibility study into how to make the best use of the old hospital to regenerate Southwold and Reydon. The ultimate vision was a mix of community space for a library, a crèche, a farm to fork café featuring home cooked food and locally grown products, start-up business space, and affordable housing.
Next we found a development partner, Hastoe Housing Association, whom we could trust to help us deliver our vision. We opened negotiations with The NHS, and eventually the NHS accepted our community bid.
We hired an award winning green Architect Ralph Carpenter. After many revisions we submitted our planning application.
On 16 February 2018, SouthGen, the NHS, and Hastoe exchanged contracts. Completion will take place on 29 March 2018, an historic date for Southwold and Reydon. This will be the first time in East Suffolk that a community group has made a successful bid for an Asset of Community Value and the first time in England and Wales that a community group has bought back a community hospital for new community uses.