Hope for ‘rebirth’ of Hitchin’s Bancroft Hall

A BATTLE by residents to replace a community hall scheduled for demolition could receive a lifeline, after a town centre organisation said yesterday (Tuesday) that it was prepared to lead the campaign.

In January, North Herts District Council (NHDC) said that it would demolish Bancroft Hall in Hitchin once the new North Herts Museum was completed, but also agreed to continue discussions with the public over an alternative venue, following pressure from them at a Cabinet meeting.

But at Hitchin area committee on Tuesday, residents said they were concerned that this would be ignored, because a report prepared for the area committee stated that the council would not be intending to provide a new building in the gardens.

Those at the meeting, including hall users Hitchin Bridge Club, criticised the statement and claimed that the council had gone back on their word.

But at the meeting, town centre manager Keith Hoskins gave hope to the campaign, and announced that Hitchin Initiative was looking to become a ‘key figure’ in providing another facility.

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“I would not say that we are in favour of the present Bancroft Hall, but we are in favour of its rebirth,” he said.

“We think it’s an integral part of the town centre. We have to accept that, if the town hall refurbishment goes ahead, the amount of space for public hall use does reduce.

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“I think I would suggest that Hitchin Initiative will step up to the plate and certainly, if not lead on the project, be a leading figure.

“We are in support of the incredible campaigners.”

Mr Hoskins’ announcement followed a discussion between councillors and officers over whether replacing the hall would have an effect on Heritage Lottery funding, which NHDC wants to apply for to fund the Bancroft Gardens’ refurbishment.

There had been claims by NHDC Cabinet members that, if another hall was built in the gardens, it would make it more difficult to apply for such funding.

But residents refuted this, and claimed that by not building another facility, NHDC would be ignoring the wishes of the community, making it harder to receive funding.

“I do not want to stand in the way of redevelopment, but if an application goes in [for lottery funding], I will be writing to object and so will 200 others, and it will be thrown out,” said one resident.

“You are removing the hall. It is made quite clear that there should be community support. If people object to the funding, there will not be.”

Cllr Deepak Sangha also said that rebuilding the hall would generate community support.

“A building would probably encourage the community visiting those gardens for recreational and leisure purposes as well,” he told other councillors.

“I think there’s an opportunity with this lottery funding to really look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. I think there’s scope for doing it [replacing the hall].”

Councillors at the area committee agreed to hold a future meeting with user groups and town councillors, on how proposals could move forward.

After the meeting, Liz Green, NHDC’s head of service for policy and community services, said: “At the meeting of Cabinet on January 24, councillors approved a timeline for Bancroft Hall to remain open until the work on the refurbishment of Hitchin Town Hall is complete. The aim of this was to give local community groups and existing hirers of facilities of Bancroft Hall a substantial period of two years to find alternative premises.

“As stated in the minutes of that meeting, councillors also agreed that ‘a dialogue should continue’ between NHDC officers and current users of Bancroft Hall, who have already been working closely together to look at possible alternative venues.

“These include considering potential arrangements to suit the individual needs and preferences of groups, at both council owned buildings and alternative commercial halls and premises, church halls and other local facilities.”

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