At probably the most important public meeting since 1986, when a consortium of Dutch businessmen tried to turn Southwold Town Marshes into a luxury marina, the Town and District turned out to hear how the community might save the former Southwold Hospital building from property developers.
St Edmund’s Hall was packed on 9th May, with standing room only, to hear how the hospital was built by the community for the community, and was being funded by local benefactors right up to its closure last December. The Town Council had the building designated as a ‘Community Asset’ in February and The NHS are appealing against that decision, as they want to sell the building to the highest bidder. This will inevitably result in the provision of more holiday homes.
Laurence Vulliamy, Chairman of the newly formed ‘Save Our Southwold Association’ told the meeting that Southwold already has the highest proportion of second homes in any town in the UK, at 60%, and the eldest resident population in the country. He went on to say: “The trouble is . . . the heart of the community has gone, and in the depths of winter there are no lights on because no-one’s at home!”
The meeting heard how the former hospital building might become a community hub, with a place for a new Library, units for businesses and low rent opportunities for entrepreneurs. It could accommodate training facilities for apprentices as well as a crèche, rehearsal spaces for music and drama and high quality consultation rooms. Laurence Vulliamy warned that any possible purchase of the building could only go ahead after a Feasibility Study had been carried out.
Speakers included Andy Wood, chief executive of Adnams, who fully supporting the campaign and talked about the regeneration of Southwold; Cllr. Ian Bradbury described the newly completed Neighbourhood Plan. Other speakers were Alison Wheeler Chief Executive of Suffolk Libraries, Guy Mitchell owner of The Post Office and ‘Spots’ and Architect Ralph Carpenter who specialises in ‘green’ community buildings. He told the meeting to “be bold and look at the potential for change.”
The meeting then voted unanimously to go forward to the feasibility study, set to cost between £8,000 and £10,000. ‘Save Our Southwold’ will begin a fundraising campaign to raise that money, just as soon as the outcome of The NHS’s appeal is known.