I am now the most excited I have ever been about the future of our town. Why? I finally finished reading the 95 page feasibility study for our new cultural hub.
Some of the wasted space between the Library and the Adult Education Centre. Hopefully not for much longer.
I can hear a few stunned quizical silences out there so if you’re one of the handful of souls who haven’t heard about this new cultural hub then let me give you a quick summary.
The Library, Museum, Art Gallery, and Adult Education Centre are to be redeveloped and expanded. Big time! £12 million worth of big time. The aim, and I love this sentence, is "to grow our role as the cultural centre of the Kent and Sussex High Weald, so that in 2024 the Borough of Tunbridge Wells is nationally recognised for its vibrant cultural provision".
The feasibility study for this expansion plan, conducted by Gleeds on behalf of TWBC and KCC, was to demonstrate how feasible it would be build the cultural hub in the town centre, and the major result of this was that it would fit perfectly into the ageing Civic Centre. The study was officially launched at a meeting this week (which I couldn’t get to at the last minute and I am still beating myself up about it) and you can download a copy of the document at the end of this post.
Concept drawing of new cultural hub. Copyright Gleeds.
To help raise the necessary £12 million for the plans it was also announced that the next stage of the project would go ahead as soon as possible with the preparation of a Heritage Lottery Fund application, or the purchase of a Lotto ticket, although I think the first one is more probable.
Hang on, so far so exciting but what is a cultural hub?
1,850sqm worth of museum and art gallery space.
It is the idea of bringing together every aspect of learning under one roof. It will enable visitors to enjoy something in the museum or art gallery, carry out some research on it, have a cup of tea and a sticky bun, and then set about creating their own wonderful creation, all the while being surrounded by like-minded people to further fuel their creativity. Or as the Council puts it, a place to “bring together all the materials, information, resources and collections that enable people to access and explore their local heritage".
I had goosebumps trawling over the minutiae: creative learning spaces, exhibition halls, lecture theatres, research facilities, studios, a café, the list goes on and on, but best of all is the 1,850sqm worth of museum and art gallery space. Drool.
The museum will grow enormously in size from its current 700sqm. The giant new space will also include the new “Tunbridge Wells Story” designed to highlight why our town exists, and at 200sqm you can imagine how detailed this special area will be when compared to the 1sqm that the current display occupies.
Imagine all that lovely light space. Imagine how wonderful it will be to finally get to display the 90% of the Museum’s artefacts that you can’t currently see. Imagine how much of a boost it will be to our local economy (according to one statistic Margate has enjoyed a £20 million boost to its economy following the construction of the Turner Contemporary).
Aerial View of Library, Museum, and Adult Education Centre. Imagine this with a glass roof. Spectacular!
This has fortified my belief that Tunbridge Wells has really turned a corner this year, what with the So Create proposals, the upcoming shared space at Five Ways, the revitalised Pantiles, and now this. The future indeed looks bright (ignoring the Ritz of course).
Niggles? Not many of course but I would like to have seen a proposal idea for incorporating the town hall into the design, but according to the report it wasn’t worth pursuing as an idea (Page 41 of report). I disagree, I think if you’re going to spend £12 million on converting it you might as well spend £20 million and convert the whole thing. I really encourage you to download and read the document and to let TWBC know your thoughts.
...nobody balls this one up please.
Of course, all of this is pretty dependent on the Heritage Lottery Fund application, which will bring £3.5 million of the total £12 million build costs, being successful. So, just in case the worst happens, philanthropists I am talking to you now, this is your time to come out of the woodwork. This could be your time to shine. Rummage deep down the back of that sofa. Actually if donations are what it takes then consider me first in line.
Not to get your hopes up too much but the anticipated milestone timetable lists the front doors opening on the new complex in 56 months time. That’s Wednesday, August 1st, 2018. I’ve already put the day on my calendar.
Finally, I’m looking at all of the people in charge of this when I say, nobody balls this one up please. Let’s see this through to the end. Oh, and 3, 14, 16, 25, 32, and 44, just in case it helps TWBC.
A feasibility Study for a New Shared Cultural and Learning Hub for Tunbridge Wells (Kent County Council and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, November 2013) (2.4MB PDF)
Cultural Strategy 2014-24 (Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, October 2013) (2.4MB PDF)
Towards and Exciting Vision for Tunbridge Wells Town Centre (Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society, March 2013) (2.5MB PDF)
What do you think of the plans? What do you general idea? Let me know in the comments.