A project has been completed to reconfigure Kendal Town Hall to make it more accessible for customers and community groups and put South Lakeland District Council (SLDC) ‘at the heart of the high street’.
A refurbishment of the historic building has included moving the main SLDC reception area to the front of the town hall and opening up more spaces inside the town hall for use by community organisations.
The work on the town hall is the first phase of a project to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the council’s main accommodation in Kendal as part of the authority’s Customer Connect transformation programme.
The second stage involves work to remodel the offices in South Lakeland House, so that around half the office space will be available to let to other organisations and creating a ‘Mintworks 2’ new enterprise centre for start-up businesses, to build on the success of the existing council-run Mintworks hub on Highgate, which has supported hundreds of small businesses and clients in the five years since it opened.
The new-look town hall will open its doors to the public for the first time tomorrow, Tuesday, May 25.
All existing users of the meeting rooms will be welcomed back from 21 June, in line with the Government’s roadmap for easing COVID-19 restrictions, while the extra space created by the work in the town hall – including making the main council chamber a multi-functional space – is already proving popular, with new community users enquiring about the meeting spaces, including Women’s Community Matters which will be based in the town hall two days a week, and several enquiries about using the town hall for everything from weddings to a gin festival.
New Leader of SLDC, Councillor Jonathan Brook, said: “The opening up of the new-look town hall is a real milestone for our Customer Connect programme.
“Moving the main reception areas for the public to the front of the town hall will make visiting the council much more accessible and user-friendly, especially improving disabled access, and puts the council at the heart of the high street, rather than tucked away and accessed down a narrow yard.
“The additional meeting spaces that have been created mean the town hall can be better used by community groups and for events, safeguarding its role as an important community building.
“With the work to the town hall and South Lakeland House we wanted to ensure that anything we did would be cost-effective for the taxpayer, make the very best use of the buildings, safeguard the future of the town hall as a civic and community facility and make life easier for our customers.
“We believe that this scheme delivers on all those points. This first phase has now been completed, which is a great credit to everyone involved given the many challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Doing nothing and staying in South Lakeland House but not re-modelling would have left us with a building too big for our needs but not suitable for letting to anyone else, less effective and less accessible for our customers and which didn’t make full use of the town hall.
“Both buildings would have still required significant amounts of capital investment in ongoing maintenance and repairs in future years, but without the potential for creating any additional income, so would have worked out more expensive in the long-term.’’
Councillor Andrew Jarvis, SLDC’s Deputy Leader and portfolio holder for Finance and Assets, said: “The full scheme for the town hall and South Lakeland House offices is costing £4.9m, which will be more than fully repaid through the benefits of having a more efficient building, reduced costs and additional income from letting out surplus office space. This will give ongoing savings for the council from year one.
“Under Customer Connect we have already re-shaped our workforce so knew we wouldn’t need to use all of such a large building in the future.
“Alternatives were considered, including moving to smaller offices or sharing with other organisations, but none of these offered the protection for the town hall, and were very much dependant on finding an alternative use for South Lakeland House and would have worked out much more costly in the long-run.
“By re-modelling South Lakeland House we can let out surplus space on much of the top and ground floors to other organisations and create a new enterprise centre for start-up businesses, supporting business growth and job creation, which are key council plan priorities.’’
The council’s overall Customer Connect innovation programme is also on track to deliver savings in excess of £8 million over 10 years by restructuring the entire organisation.
Under the new way of working customers will have better access to services, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and have more opportunity to self-serve through improved digital options, including the new My Account function, which officially launched in March this year and already has 6,500 sign-ups.
Cllr Brook continued: “This is local government at its best, striving to find ways to save taxpayer money, while protecting and enhancing services and, with the wider buildings project included, offering new office space and improved access to the town hall to help support our communities and new town centre businesses.
“Customer Connect is all about improving our systems and delivering services in a more efficient way, reducing waste and simplifying processes, empowering employees and restructuring the whole organisation from top-to-bottom.
“It is enabling us to be more efficient and better able to deliver the services our residents deserve, at the same time as making very significant savings.’’