The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) has approved a business case for stabilisation work to the Whitfield Tabernacle in Kingswood.
The award of £682,000 to repair, re-roof and re-open the building to the public has been identified as a catalyst for the Kingswood element of WECA’s Love our High Streets project.
South Gloucestershire Council and the Whitfield Tabernacle Trust share an ambition to fully restore the Grade-I listed building and have been working hard to secure investment into this Conservation Area site since the Love our High Streets project was unveiled. The Trust are proposing to create a Performing Arts Centre at the historic venue and this injection of funding will enable the first events and productions to take place.
Despite its town centre location, the Conservation Area site, which includes the Grade-II listed Masters Church and the adjoining graveyard has been derelict and overgrown for some 27 years and despite the efforts of the trust and private developers, the necessary funding for a fully viable project has not been forthcoming. Kingswood’s identification as the pilot for the Love our High Streets project, and its subsequent success in reaching phase 2 of the Government’s Future High Streets Fund (FHSF) has enabled renewed ambition for Kingswood High Street however, and the Council is currently underway with a comprehensive masterplanning exercise which will be subject to public engagement in the new year as the further business cases are developed.
The Masters Church has planning permission for 19 apartments and three new houses that will be constructed at the top part of the site, whilst the graveyard will be respectfully transitioned into a public park space and transferred to the Council.
Cllr Toby Savage, Leader of South Gloucestershire Council said: “I am delighted that the Love our High Streets Project has been able to deliver the much-needed investment in this historic asset which offers such potential for Kingswood Town Centre.
“The Conservation Area has suffered from decades of neglect despite many efforts to intervene from the public and private sector and when I and the other WECA Leaders came together to discuss a dedicated fund for High Streets, this was exactly the sort of longstanding challenge we wanted to tackle.
“The regeneration of the Whitfield Tabernacle plays a significant part in the bigger vision we have for rejuvenating Kingswood and this funding will help us significantly to seize this opportunity, not only to bring this run-down site back into public use, but to deliver new and exciting services.”
Tim Bowles, West of England Mayor, said: “Breathing new life into the Whitfield Tabernacle is a great example of how our Love our High Streets project is helping to revitalise local communities by giving high streets and town centres a real boost. The future of our high streets isn’t just about shops, it’s about our businesses, community activities and the way that spaces are used. This is another example of how the Combined Authority is making a difference in South Gloucestershire and right across the West of England.”
Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore said: “Renovating our historic Tabernacle has been a personal mission of mine and I am delighted with this massive investment which marks a turning point for Kingswood’s regeneration. I am very grateful to WECA and the Council for their combined efforts in moving this project forward.
“This site has the potential to be the catalyst for the wider plan to rejuvenate Kingswood High Street and I am sure residents will be pleased by the prospect of having a brand new creative, cultural and heritage centre to enjoy.”
The site has important significance in Kingswood’s history, being home to the birth of the non-conformist religious movement and internationally-acclaimed characters such as George Whitfield and John Wesley. Both the Council and the Trust are keen to restore local pride in these assets and in the wider heritage story for Kingswood. It is anticipated that this attractive and experiential Conservation Area with provide a new cultural offer in Kingswood and support further investment in Regent Street and the wider High Street.
The stabilisation work has been funded by the West of England Combined Authority through its Love our High Streets project. This follows initial investment in an electric ecosweeper which is now operational on the High Street and solar compaction bins which are to be installed soon.
For more information visit www.southglos.gov.uk/loveourhighstreets