Hough End Hall, Hough End Hall Academy and the future of the Friends of Hough End Hall.

Our group, the Friends of Hough End Hall was established in 2013 to bring the then vacant Hough End Hall back into use, emphasising its heritage value and its potential as a hub for the local community. We did a lot of work on several fronts:

  • Getting the building listed as an “asset of community value” which meant a period during which its sale was prevented, giving the community a chance to plan and bid for it.

  • Raising awareness locally and consulting with the local community over the future use of the Hall.

  • Obtaining a small grant to help work up our proposals, which included incorporation as a charitable company, engaging an architect, developing a business plan and making further grant applications.

  • Lobbying Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) (the owner) and the Treasury (part owner of RBS) to ensure that the building did not fall into the wrong hands.

  • Applying for funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to both restore the building and bring it into effective community use.

  • Conducted other fund-raising activity.

  • Carried out some of the research and the illustrations which led to the publication of our book, Hough End Hall: The Story (available from the Bookshop and the Library in Chorlton).

Our plan was for the building to be a community hub and to become self-financing after an initial restoration and start-up period. To this end we worked with a local charitable institution towards a joint project to buy the Hall and achieve this, but sadly this fell through.

In Summer, 2015, the building was sold by RBS to a local group who planned to run the Hall as Hough End Academy, for a health promotion programme orientated largely towards the South Asian community. Dr Pasha, who has led this project, first made enquiries of ourselves before approaching RBS: it was our campaign that helped raise awareness of the building among potential buyers, helping RBS (and the public purse) dispose of the building.

In October, we published the following statement on behalf of the new owners:

The building is now owned by a local charity and will be called ‘Hough End Hall Academy’. It will be used for educational purposes. The Academy will be responsible for preserving, protecting, and restoring the building and its rich history. Hough End Hall Academy are making their official website and request the community to use it for future information and suggestions. In the meanwhile, suggestions are welcome and can be given in the Suggestion Box that will be arranged to be placed outside the building. The Academy is preparing the building and will invite the community as soon as the building is in a presentable condition.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need any further information.”

In January we had a group to group meeting which was very friendly. We believe that, although it was not the project we had in mind, the Hough End Hall Academy project is a worthwhile one, well resourced and orientated to meeting a community need: one of the things we wanted to see happen.

We are less confident about the heritage dimension: it does not appear to be a major interest of the Academy, although they did express interest in co-operating with some of our members on things like a heritage display within the building. However, we do not know whether the responsibilities of the owners of owning and maintaining a Grade 2* listed building were fully understood. Since then we have had only limited contact with the group. They appear to have been faced with some challenges with the fabric of the building, so their time-scales for establishing the project will be longer than originally anticipated. So far there does not appear to be a website or other information publicly available.

We are aware that there has been some speculation in the local community about what the new users are doing, including a rumour that it is, or will be a mosque. We have been told that this is not the case: there is a prayer room within the building, but we have been informed that the function of the building is to be a health education centre.

Friends of Hough End Hall will continue to maintain a watching brief over the building. Our concern is still that this asset, with so many local memories, is made available for the benefit of the community, and that its heritage value is preserved and promoted. However, since we will not be responsible for the building ourselves, our project will run at a lower level. We are exploring the possibility of erecting a public information board as a lasting source of infomriation about the Hall. We are likely to wind up the charitable company but continue in existence as an unincorporated community association. We will also remain available to assist the current owners where possible and where this role is consistent with our “watchdog” function.

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Success! Royal Bank of Scotland delays sale of Hough End Hall

Next steps in the campaign to Make It Ours as RBS delays sale of Hough End Hall.

Thanks to everyone who supported our campaign to persuade RBS to defer the sale of the Hall to give us sufficient time to arrange funding for the purchase. Following recent correspondence we can update you on the encouraging progress we’ve made.

Background

The Hall, which we want to make available as a resource for the community of South Manchester, is currently owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), through its subsidiary ‘West Register’. We succeeded in having it listed as a ‘community asset’ which meant a sale could not be concluded until 25 November, 2014. While the Hall had been vacant for more than two years, there was pressure from the Treasury for RBS to get rid of its property portfolio as pay back for some of the government’s bail-out. Our problem was that our best chance of raising the money to buy the Hall is through a big grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). But although our meetings with them have been encouraging, it will take time and a considerable amount of work to demonstrate that our plans to run the Hall are water-tight, and they won’t be able to make a final decision on funding until December, 2015 at the earliest.

What we did

So we decided to petition to Ross McEwan, Chief Executive of RBS, George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer ,and Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business.

In only two weeks we obtained 500 signatures (on the Change.org website and on paper) so at that point we closed the petition and submitted it, together with letters to the three people.

Much to our surprise George Osborne wrote to RBS. Soon after this we received a sympathetic letter from him, and he enclosed a letter from RBS’s Executive Investigation Department (for some reason our own copy of that letter did not arrive until later). The letter said that our aims are consistent with their new found orientation community focus, but first we had to make a bid for the Hall. This we did, and RBS have now confirmed they will not contract with another party until the determination of our first round bid. If we are successful at this stage, RBS will give consideration to extending the period during which they hold the building until the results of the second round application to the Heritage lottery is known. Successful Stage 1 application indicates a good chance that a grant will be awarded (although it is of course no guarantee). We will know the outcome of Stage 1 in December.

So this is great news and we could only have got this far with the support so many of you have given us.

Next steps

We have two grant applications in now. The first is the HLF stage 1 application, a very detailed document that sets out our plans for the building and its restoration, with a business plan. The application is for the purchase price, restoration costs and costs of running the building while it becomes financially viable. The second application is a feasibility grant application (building on work funded by our current pre-feasibility grant) for some of the costs involved in developing plans, doing surveys, etc. in preparation for assuming responsibility for the building.

Crowdfunding, what is it and how does it fit in?

You will also be aware that we are also trying to raise a separate sum of money by crowd-funding. This is a way of putting together a lot of promises of donations from individuals and organisations. The appeal runs until 31 january.

We are not trying to raise the purchase price of the Hall through this – it is too much to ask. It is, instead, to fund some of the heritage activities (a Heritage Walk, a book about the Hall, a Mobile Exhibition, and a high quality interactive website), that will be an essential part of the Hall’s new life as a Heritage-based community resource. But even if we don’t acquire the Hall, the heritage activities will still be established (if we meet our crowdfunding target, and we’ve a long way to go) and they would keep the idea of returning the Hall to the community alive for the future.

Most important, our success with crowdfunding will increase our chances of landing the big Heritage Lottery Fund grant. It will show the support of the local community, not just in words, but financially. So again, please, please do support this, and do spread the word. Remember, you pay nothing unless and until we reach our target.

Finally, thanks to everyone for the support you’ve shown so far. We have achieved our first major success and are confident about making a very strong attempt to Make Hough End Hall Ours over the coming year.

Petition now closed and sent to Ross McEwan – thanks for your support

Thank you all for your great support for our petition. We have closed it today at 467 signatures in order to send it in to Ross McEwan, Chief Exec at RBS, with copies to George Osborne, Vince Cable, and local MPs.
Had we left it longer we would have gained more signatures, and we will point this out in our covering letter, but in only 2 weeks we have have established the considerable level of support for our plans and for the proposal that RBS delay the sale of the Hall until we have completed the Heritage lottery process.
Please do continue to follow the project on our website http://houghendhall.org and do please consider adding your financial support by making a pledge, big or small on our crowdfunding appeal: you only pay if we meet the target, and showing that we have raised these funds will also help our HLF application which if successful would allow us to buy the Hall (read more about it here).
Thanks
Mark Burton and Carolyn Kagan
for the Friends of Hough End Hall

Hough End Hall – Tell RBS the community needs it!

RBS logo via http://www.rbs.co.uk/corporate.ashxWe are now at a critical point in the campaign to make Hough End Hall ours. As you may know the Hall is currently owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), through its troubled subsidiary ‘West Register. While the Hall has been vacant for some two years, there is now pressure from the Treasury for RBS to get rid of its property portfolio (part of its “de-leveraging”). That means that when the moratorium on its sale ends on 25 November, they will want to sell the Hall as soon as possible.

Our problem is that our best chance of raising the money to buy the Hall is through a big grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. But although our meetings with them have been encouraging, it will take longer than this until they could agree the money. This is because of the considerable amount of work needed to demonstrate that our plans to run the Hall are water-tight, and the set dates that they work to for considering proposals and finally agreeing funding (in December, 2015).

We have spoken to the manager at West Register, who although sympathetic, has clear instructions from above to make a sale as soon as possible. What we need to do is get as many people as possible to make the case for giving us more time. Because RBS is owned by you and me – the State is the majority (81%) shareholder – this is a realistic thing to ask for and to expect, and the positive publicity would help RBS in restoring its reputation. Indeed, they could even give the building to the community, but we don’t expect that.

What you can do:

1) Sign our petition to Ross McEwan (Chief Executive of RBS), George Osborne (Chancellor of the Exchequer, and MP for nearby Tatton) and Vince Cable (Business Secretary).
It is will take you a few moments via this link.

2) Write to your MP (using this model MP letter: but please personalise it)  asking them to give their support to our request to give us more time and identify us as the preferred buyer. Put in your postcode after you click this link and you can email your MP directly (but again please don’t just send an unchanged model letter – Write to them will block it if you do).

3) Share this with your family, friends and colleagues – by word of mouth (best), email, facebook and twitter. You can also share the petition in this way.

Thanks for you help, it really will help us Make it Ours!

Also look out for our Crowdfunding appeal – coming very soon.

Come on down to the Big Green Happening

We will have a stand at Chorlton’s Big Green Happening today, Sat 27th April, St Clements Chrurch from 1-5. Come and visit stand 65 (outside) and hear the latest news and how close we are to making the Hall ours! The more friends and family you can bring to sign up the better, otherwise, just come along and say hello.