The conversion of an iconic cottage hospital into a community hub and nine affordable homes was officially marked by the community of Southwold and Reydon on Friday 17 June 2022.
Southwold and Reydon is the first community in England and Wales to buy back its community hospital to provide much needed affordable housing and community facilities in the area.
Four of the homes are for affordable rent and five are for shared ownership with all homes prioritised for people with a local connection to the area. The community hub has breathed new life into Southwold by providing a new home for the town’s library, a nursery, farm-to-fork café and co-working space for local entrepreneurs, freelancers and remote workers.
Originally funded and built by local people 125 years ago, Southwold’s cottage hospital was closed by the NHS in 2015. Fearing the locally-listed building would be demolished and redeveloped into second homes and holiday lets, the local community developed an ambitious plan that led to the formation of a social enterprise, the Southwold and Waveney Valley Regeneration Society Ltd, known as SouthGen.
SouthGen campaigned to save the building and worked with rural affordable housing specialist, Hastoe Housing Association, to buy the site. It was an innovative transaction in which both partners’ involvement was crucial. In March 2018, SouthGen bought the freehold and sold it to Hastoe, which then provided SouthGen with a 999-year leasehold for a pepper corn rent.
Work on the conversion began on site in summer 2019 and the homes and community hub were developed in partnership with architects Wellington and Modece Architects, building contractor Wellington Construction, and employer’s agent Potter Raper.
All partners, as well as the local MP and councillors, attended the official completion of works. The occasion was commemorated with the planting of a Victoria Plum tree. The tree was chosen because work to build the original hospital had started 125 years ago on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee on 22 June 1897. The refurbished hospital was completed in June 2022, coinciding with the Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.
Jessica DeGrazia Jeans, Chair of SouthGen, said: “This project has inspired a truly amazing community spirit. Hundreds of volunteers have participated in all aspects of the project from campaigning, doing the feasibility study, putting in the initial bid and buying the site, right through to funding the project, and maintaining the building’s integrity, design and community use.
“We have been fortunate to receive generous grant support from the Community Business Fund, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, the Architectural Heritage Fund, the Reaching Communities Fund, the Denby Charitable Fund, the Ben and Phillipa Johnson Family Foundation, the Reach Fund, as well as a matching community share investment from Co-operatives UK through the Community Share Booster Programme.
“We are also indebted to all our partners. We could not have achieved this without them. Special thanks go to Hastoe for their help and unique approach. There are few organisations out there with such vision and commitment. Hastoe has been the very best of partners, and we are fortunate to have found them.”
The Rt Hon Dr Thérèse Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said: “This project has taken a lot of guts, courage and determination. There wouldn’t have been many communities prepared to take on a project like this. Its success lies completely in the strength, tenacity and creativity of all those involved.”
Councillor Michael Ladd of Suffolk County Council said: “I agree completely. This could never have happened without a ‘can do’ attitude. We are lucky to have so many people with the diversity of skills and strength of will to have made this happen. The site has returned to being a real asset to the town and local community.”
Lindy Morgan, Chair of the Board of Hastoe Housing Association, said: “Hastoe is honoured and privileged to have worked alongside everyone involved in helping to deliver the community’s vision. However, we are in no doubt this is a community driven and led success that would not have been possible without SouthGen’s leadership.
“We will now continue to work with SouthGen and other key stakeholders to ensure the future sustainability and success of the project. Hastoe’s commitment to this project is to care for the homes and provide excellent services to the residents long into the future and, not to put too fine a point on it, beyond the lifetime of many of us standing here today.
“This year is Hastoe’s 60th anniversary and, similar to the way we look back with pride at what we’ve achieved, we want the future community of Southwold and Reydon to look back and say what a fantastic thing my community did all those years ago.”