Bickford-Smith Institute Working Party reports to Porthleven Town Council

The Bickford-Smith Institute is an iconic building; in reality it is more than that, it is a powerful symbol of place. The vision for the BSI should not be small. We as a community should be ambitious in our plans to create something of which the community is proud– and uses regularly.

The Working Party of the Bickford-Smith Institute (BSI) gave an update to Porthleven Town Council on the work so far, and the next few steps at the September meeting of the Council. The Council endorsed the work so far, and the next steps. 

One of the first issues to be sorted is any funding grants, donations and bequests that the Council receives will need to be tax efficient. Therefore, there would be the necessary to set up a charity. The BSI will remain in the ownership of Porthleven Town Council. This is a ‘red-line’ for the Council.

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The recommendation of the working party is that a new charity under the control and ownership of the Town Council be set up. Ownership of the building is a ‘red-line for the Council. This charity would lease the building from the Town Council, raise funds, manage the refurbishment and then operate the building. This gives a wide opportunity for grant funding but retains ownership of the building by the Town Council.

Legal advice would need to be sought over the wording of the lease to include a time-linked termination clause should the charity fail in its aims and objectives. Trustees will need to be suitably skilled but would include a majority of town councillors. This was accepted as the preferred way forward by the whole of the Council.

It is estimated the restoration of the building will cost in the region of £650k-750k. Annual operating costs are estimated at £25-45,000 (depending on the use). The refurbishment of the building will require the support of grant funding, which is at present a very scarce resource.

Currently, the Working Party has identified five possible options available to the Town Council regarding the future use of the Bickford-Smith Institute. The option but forward to the Town Council by the BSI Working Group are as:

  1. Do nothing. The building will deteriorate. Investigations suggest that major repairs to the structural integrity of the building e.g. the institute roof, will be needed in the next two years, therefore there is a significant cost to doing nothing.
  2. Refurbish as community building. This would retain at least one snooker table in the building as well as space for the town clerk and meetings. It would require part-time management and would compete with other public spaces. Finding grant funding for such a project will be difficult as existing space is available in the village therefore a significant part of the cost of the refurbishment and on-going costs may need to come from the Town Council. If any grant funding were to be identified for the refurbishment any bid would need a clear focus for the use of the space that does not compete with other venues in town. The annual running costs might come through a raising of the parish precept (estimated £14 per household per annum).
  3. Refurbishment as part Community building with holiday let. This would see the Caretaker’s Cottage turned into a holiday cottage generating an annual income of c£28,000 towards running costs (with the remainder being met by hall rentals). Grant funding would need to be identified for the refurbishment costs and any bid would need a clear focus for the Institute’s community space that does not compete with other venues in town. The snooker club would need to be relocated.
  4. Refurbishment as part Community building with domestic let. As above, grant funding would be needed for the refurbishment of the community space and this would need a clear purpose to succeed. A domestic let will generate £8,000 per annum towards running costs with an additional estimated £8,000 from the community portion of the building. The shortfall is likely to be met by a rise in the parish precept (estimated £9 per household per annum). The snooker club would need to be relocated.
  5. Refurbishment as a Community Heritage, Art and Culture Space. The refurbishment of the whole space (possibly with an extension into the courtyard) for community heritage, art and culture activities. This fits in with the original remit of the building as a place for education, literature and science (with the science angle being expanded on via the technology used in exhibits and the choice of visiting speakers and events). Grant funding is available for this type of venue and has the most likely chance of success. The snooker club would need to be relocated.

The recommendation put forward by the Working Party is:

The Working Party has sought to find a way forward that fits the needs of the community, who told us their top two preferred uses for the Institute were as a heritage and community space. We have married this with a scheme that fits within available funding streams and identified Option 5 as the most likely to succeed.

However, it is imperative that the issues of a suitable venue for the snooker club and the consideration of provision for a youth facility in the village be included as part of the overall project. Additionally it is essential that the Institute, refurbished in this manner, has a clear community focus for all ages.

In making this recommendation we have sought a solution that ensures a steady future for the snooker club and that avoids the suggestion of part of the building being turned into a rental property, meaning that the whole space can be put to community use.

On this basis the Working Party recommends we submit an expression of interest to the funders of the Great Places scheme (a Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council grant programme) in pursuit of option five.

It is essential for grant funding success to show that the project complements other local facilities, provides a clear, measurable benefit to the area and has significant merit.

It must be made clear, nothing is set in stone, as the Working Party also recommends the option put forward to the town council should have further exploration and explanation. This will be carried out by a second community consultation in the form of public meetings and open days, alongside an online survey. This or any other idea must be fully assessed by the people of Porthleven and importantly, whether the community supports it.

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