Creating a hub of services and activity within Meltham
Meltham Carlile Community Interest Company (CIC) was formed in spring 2014 with the express purpose of restoring and saving the Carlile Institute in Meltham for the benefit of the residents of the Township of the Parish of Meltham. The Carlile Institute is an impressive Victorian community building sitting at the heart of the community which has been much loved by the residents of the town since its construction in 1891.Meltham Carlile Institute was a property left in legacy to the people of Meltham and was for many years under the ownership of Meltham Urban District Council. In 1974 with the reorganisation of Local Government and the dissolution of Meltham UDC, the freehold of the building was formally transferred to Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council. Since that date, Kirklees Council have had a statutory obligation to maintain the property.
Up to circa 2007, the building was the home to Meltham Library, until it is claimed that a major dry rot outbreak in the main supporting trusses of the roof over the Jubilee room, which necessitated the relocation of the library – the library now resides in the ground floor of the Town Hall across the road from the Carlile Institute.
In October 2013, Kirklees Council announced new policies aimed at transferring buildings back into the control of voluntary/community sector. The ‘Community Asset Transfer’ policy formalises the lease of Kirklees Council owned buildings to organisations in the Third Sector such as charities and Community Interest Companies.
At around the same time the owner of Meltham Post Office was given the opportunity to move his Post Office branch under the Post Office Ltd ‘Network Transformation Scheme’. The Postmaster, James, considered his position and decided to leave the Network and seek out fresh opportunities. The opportunity of seeking a Community Post Office, which might be relocated within the Carlile Institute, became a prospect. This was a fantastic chance to acquire the Post Office franchise as a key anchor tenant of a wider ranging project to bring new life back into the building.
Community engagement and sustainability
From November 2013 through to June 2014, a small group of residents supported by Meltham Town Council and Kirklees Councillors developed a plan, secured a lease on the property and raised substantial funding to facilitate the move. The Post Office branch was secured by a trustee of the project in March 2014 and it opened, following extensive renovation works to part of the Carlile, in September 2014. Public meetings, weekly briefings and raising awareness through the press ensured that members of the public continued to be updated about progress and to get input into the design of the new Post Office.
There was a clear need to ensure that the Carlile Institute restoration was financially sustainable. To achieve this required parts of the property to earn commercial rents and income in order to subsidise the community elements. The project is sustainable through income from the two core income sources – Meltham Community Post Office and the office space which is now fully let to local businesses. The building operates to a 36%/64% split in favour of community use over commercial space.
Work to date has involved spending over £180,000 on repairs and restoring many aspects of the building to its original glory. This has meant fixing many of the faults that have developed due to a lack of investment by Kirklees Council. The Community Post Office is installed and went live on 9th September 2014, the office space was completed and the first tenant moved in at the end of January 2015, a large room (the Jubilee Room) has been refurbished and is used by community groups for dancing, meetings and community events.
From the outset it was recognised that the wider project was not only one for the benefit of all Meltham residents but that it was ‘owned’ by them also. Meltham Carlile CIC is the company (Ltd Company by Guarantee) formed in 2014 to act as the business to manage both the refurbishment of the premises and its future. The company has nine trustees selected from the community including two from the Town Council, an important partner in the building’s future. Working alongside the CIC is the Meltham Carlile Supporters Group which is a group of enthusiastic residents who meet regularly and share in the direction of the project as well as ensuring that the wide range of community activities and events in the centre are well supported.
The CIC Board is Chaired by Paul White, a local resident, Chartered Surveyor and Meltham Town Councillor and the Secretary, Richard Noon, who has a background in business management, and has driven this project since its inception over the last 18 months or so.
The CIC is structured so that any surplus income generated by the project is automatically reinvested for the benefit of the community. Initially any surpluses will be invested in the Carlile Institute ensuring its future, but the CIC also has the ability to grant aid other community projects and activities in the future.
Achievements to date
The community business, has to date received public backing from Paula Vennels, CEO of Post Office Ltd and is being discussed as a model to be used across the country by the Department for Work and Pensions whilst it has also earned Meltham recognition from the Department for Communities and Local Government, being Highly Commended at the Great British High Street Awards for its innovation, community engagement and impact on the township of Meltham. The community business has featured in the Examiner on a number of occasions, as well as being a popular discussion point on BBC Radio Leeds. The community business got a mention at the Locality 'Public Sector Hero Awards', with Barroness Thornton stating that is was a community business she had been following with interest.
The Community Post Office, since moving has created a fresh, clean and fully accessible branch which has enabled many disabled residents of Meltham to access their local branch for the first time. The Post Office has fully compliant disabled access and a large retail space which offers the full range of products as the old branch. The performance of the branch has outstripped expectations, monthly income from the activities of the branch have been between 20-25% higher than initially expected – with residents of outlying towns and villages now using this branch as others close or are replaced by ‘Local’ model branches. Our private retail income has increased in volume and value with average weekly takings of around £500 – this is almost treble what the old Post Office branch was achieving. Our Post Office is staffed by fully paid, experienced staff members – led by our Post Office Business Manager who manages the business on a day-to-day basis with strategic input provided by the founding trustees of the project.
The next stage
The Community Post Office area will soon share its space with the local library. Having the co-located service will deliver the same level of service as the current library provides whilst also improving access for all to information services and the internet. We are working with Post Office Ltd to develop a community broadband service, run in conjunction with Kirklees Council that offers IT training for all, facilitating the young and elderly within Meltham and the wider area to have access to good quality reliable internet coupled with courses to improve IT literacy.
Our plans for phase 3 whilst ensuring that we achieve high levels of community activity, also address the issue of two parts of the building, the former Mechanics Institute at the rear and the main building at the front not operating well together. There will be a new single joint access with an entrance foyer with the new lift and toilets accessible to the public as well as for people using the community rooms. The Mechanics Institute part of the property is currently used by community groups for meetings and events, whilst upstairs needs work to bring it into use. Restoration work needed in that part of the building is similar to that which has now been achieved in the front part of the building. These items include replacement glazing and roof repairs with damp proofing throughout to repair damage sustained over the years. Our phase three plans have been carefully designed to fit all the new toilet and kitchen facilities within the existing walls in order to reduce any ‘new build’ to a minimum and save cost.
Our plans also respond to a major issue of accessibility to the 1st floor. There are currently two staircases serving the upper floor, but they are both difficult for ambulant users to access. Another challenge exists around the levels on the upper floor. The position of the proposed access lift will allow us to efficiently raise the 1st floor level within Mechanics Institute building.
Minor adjustments in the space next to the Jubilee Room will provide disabled toilet facilities on the 1st floor as well as a small food preparation area suitable for final prep of food for parties etc. On the ground floor, our plans replace a small outdated kitchen and inefficient toilet facilities with a larger kitchen, two disabled toilets and storage for community groups’ belongings. Redecoration and improvement of the Mechanics Institute building will enable us to both reduce utility costs and provide its users with a space that is fit for purpose and welcoming – meaning the rooms will be used more frequently and for a wider range of community activities.
Where our funding has come from
Meltham Carlile CIC has raised in excess of £175,000 to fund stages 1 and 2 of this project. As we are in our first year we don’t yet have audited accounts.
£100,000 grant from Kirklees Council to support the initial building works.
£30,000 loan from Meltham Town Council for the installation of the Post Office into the Carlile.
£35,000 grant from Meltham Town Council to enable the repair of the roof to ensure it is water tight prior to work commencing.
£10,000 grant from Holme Valley Area Committee to fund legal and professional fees.
£3,000 applied from Crossroads.
The key to the sustainability of this project is the income from the Post Office and office space, which come together to subsidise community activities who hire rooms at a reduced rate. Our income from these activities is forecast in the region of £30,000 PA.