A Call to Southwold Lovers Everywhere: Help Complete This Award Winning Community Project
In 2018, SouthGen, a social enterprise, partnered with Hastoe Housing Association to buy the former Southwold Hospital (closed by the NHS in 2016) and redevelop it so it could continue to care for the community in new ways. Now Hastoe and SouthGen are close to completing the conversion of the Victorian building into 9 affordable dwellings for local people (built and managed by Hastoe) and a community hub (built and managed by SouthGen). The hub will have three community businesses (a nursery, farm to fork cafe and co-working space) and a new home for Southwold Library. All profits from the hub will be reinvested in the community
In one breath-taking year, SouthGen's dedicated Management Committee worked tirelessly to raise over a £1 million to pay its share of the costs. Half of this came from a Crowdfunder community share offer. We now have 477 members, including (we are proud to say) Co-operatives UK who gave us a matching equity award of £100,000.
The Crowdfunder share offer completed our funding package. In August 2019, the build began.
10 months later, this is where we were
Everything on the site had been demolished with only the original front and side elevations left standing.
Now look at where we are!
With two national awards under our belt, the redevelopment is nearly completed. Our community is over-joyed at the old hospital's transformation.
One small problem -- a funding shortfall of £250,000
This is due to the complexity of the build, the impact of Covid-19, and the decision to manage rather than rent our cafe so we could better address the pandemic's fall out.
When our Victorian cottage hospital was built, the community was so proud. Back in 1903, it was a state of the art rural cottage hospital.
Over the years, many extensions were added. Once demolition began, it became clear that the only bits of the historic fabric that could be retained were three external walls. Everything else -- from the foundations up -- had to be rebuilt. This has cost us more than we budgeted even with a generous contingency fund.
Then the pandemic hit
All work stopped for a month; when the builders came back on site, they had to work at 33% capacity because of social distancing. When a worker tested positive at the Bedford factory where our replica chimneys were being made, the factory closed for three weeks -- more unforeseen delay. Works on the hub couldn't progress until the building was made water tight. A shortage of UK production meant we had to source tens of thousands of pantiles from Germany -- another delay.
On top of this, our community is suffering from loss of work, loss of educational opportunities for children, increased social isolation and mental health problems. As if this were not enough, divisions between our full-time and part time residents have been enflamed.
This is something that SouthGen has always sought to reduce through its inclusive, big tent understanding of what it means to be part of the Southwold community. Over 40% of our Members are second homers or visitors. They think of Southwold as their second community.
A cafe that makes a difference
Our decision to move from a tenanted to a managed cafe model was inspired by our desire to use the cafe to help address all these issues. Our vision is a socially inclusive meeting space that breaks down social barriers. A place where people from different backgrounds can get to know each other. A place that the library and others can use for educational and social events. A cafe that supports local food producers, with menus based on what is seasonally available. A cafe that plays its small role in supporting the quiet revolution taking place in Suffolk farming where a new generation is producing food in ways that are in harmony with our natural environment. A cafe that will cook our nursery meals so our children will eat healthy and diverse foods. A cafe that will recruit and train young people and pay them fairly.
Long term, the managed model will be more profitable and deliver greater community benefits. But short term, we have increased fitting out costs.
One last generous push
Now, with the building almost 2/3 completed and opening scheduled for September 2021, we are hoping for one last generous push from the community.
If we can raise £55,000 in donations, this will go towards completing a funding package that will also include grants, a loan (if needed) and, if needed to repay the loan, another community share offer in late 2021/2022. Of course, the more money we raise from donations, the less likely the need for a loan.
Whether you are a member who previously invested or someone who loves Southwold and this project, could you donate as generously as you are able so we can open our community businesses in September 2021 on schedule?
The Canteen -- A Cafe with a Conscience
Nicola Hordern, an award winning Suffolk Head Chef who is passionate about the farm to fork movement, is helping to develop The Canteen. Here she is pictured on Southwold beach.
This is what Nicola said after she saw our space.
‘I could see that so much care had gone into the project. We need less about the individual and more about all of us.
'I’d love to see people popping in for the best cup of coffee and eating beautiful pastries that we would be making from flours made from grains grown and milled nearby. Using butter produced at Fen Farm Dairy, with sustainable energy from solar panels...'
Southwold ChildWise -- Nurture in Nature
A nurturing, stimulating and safe space -- a home away from home instead of a watered down version of school
Southwold Works -- Be Inspired, Connect, Focus, Thrive
For freelancers, solopreneurs, remote workers, small teams and visitors. In fact, for anyone who needs a comfortable place to work productively.