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OPEN Norwich still empty as former bank seeks new tenants

PUBLISHED: 08:30 17 July 2020 | UPDATED: 10:08 17 July 2020

The former OPEN on Bank Plain. Picture: Antony Kelly

The former OPEN on Bank Plain. Picture: Antony Kelly

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2009

It is among the most prominent buildings in Norwich, with a rich history and limitless potential to play a key role in city life.

Ana Almeida, Steve Wiseman and Julie Briggs of Clear Company a not-for-profit CIC which has expressed an interest in the OPEN building Picture: Cath CartmanAna Almeida, Steve Wiseman and Julie Briggs of Clear Company a not-for-profit CIC which has expressed an interest in the OPEN building Picture: Cath Cartman

For the past 15 years, the former banking hall on Bank Plain provided a home for the OPEN Youth Trust, which saw it also become a much-loved live music, entertainment and conference venue.

However, in April, financial troubles led to the charity going into liquidation - resulting in not only the loss of a charity that helped improve the lives of thousands of young people, but also the building being vacated.

Laura Rycroft, former chief execitive of OPEN Youth Trust Photo: OPEN NorwichLaura Rycroft, former chief execitive of OPEN Youth Trust Photo: OPEN Norwich

Three months later and the building, but for a storage facility on its basement floors, sits dormant, yet to find new tenants and - more crucially - a new purpose.

Since it became clear that the OPEN charity, which offered support to disadvantaged young people across the reason, a number of suggestions have been made as to what the historically-significant building could be used for.

Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council's cabinet member for transport Picture: Steve AdamsMike Stonard, Norwich City Council's cabinet member for transport Picture: Steve Adams

One theory was that it could be taken on by the Norwich University of the Arts (NUA), which has continually seen its in-city campus expand through new additions to its portfolio in recent weeks.

However, rumours that a bid from the university was being prepared shared on social media proved wide of the mark.

England fans watching a World Cup game at OPEN in 2018. Picture: ANTONY KELLYEngland fans watching a World Cup game at OPEN in 2018. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

A NUA spokesman said: “It’s sad for the city that the OPEN charity has closed, and we hope that the building can be put to good use. But the idea that was first shared on Twitter in April that NUA would lease the building did not originate with the university and is not part of our plans for the future.”​

One organisation that has expressed an interest in the building is the social enterprise Clear Company, which following OPEN’s closure touted an ambitious proposal to use the building as an enterprise park.

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Julia Briggs, Clear Company’s founder, said: “We have submitted an expression of interest in the building and are currently consulting with other organisations - such as Break, NCLS and Wild Paths - to audit the possibility for a potential consortium.

“We believe the space would be fantastic for a consortium offering a range of easily accessible community services supported by profits generated by a restaurant-gallery and shopping space for local produce on site.”

Laura Rycroft, the former chief executive of OPEN Youth Trust, said she hoped a party could be found that would be willing to put the building back to a similar use, providing youth services and an events space.

Mrs Rycroft, who has taken over the Closed storage business, said: “It is such a beautiful building. Like any grade II listed building it does need a little TLC but it could be put to such good use.

“After OPEN went into liquidation, initially there were lots of interest in it, with people coming forward to say they would run it. However, I think a lot of people hadn’t realised quite the magnitude of it and how much maintenance went into and that has since cooled. I’m also not sure the Lind Trust quite knows what they want to do with it yet.”

Any new use of the building would not only require an agreement with the Lind Trust, but would also need the approval of planners at Norwich City Council.

Mike Stonard, the council’s cabinet member for planning, said: “The Open Youth Trust provided a fantastic service for countless people in the city, so I personally would be keen to see the building stay an important part of city life.

“It was a fantastic music venue, conference centre and meeting place too, however, we’d have to rely on somebody being willing and able to run it for these purposes.

“It is also an important, historic building so as a council we would love to see it in use and would look at any planning application put forward for it. However, we would look at any application that comes forward and assess them on their own merits.”

The Lind Trust has been approached for comment


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