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What next for iconic former banking hall following collapse of OPEN?

PUBLISHED: 12:17 28 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:17 28 April 2020

OPEN Norwich Credit: OPEN Norwich

OPEN Norwich Credit: OPEN Norwich

Jordan Hudson 2016

The iconic city centre building that until now housed a youth charity and music venue cannot be left vacant and unused.

Norwich South Labour MP Clive Lewis described it as a Norwich South Labour MP Clive Lewis described it as a "prison sentence". Photo: Archant

That is the view of community leaders hoping to see the former home of OPEN Norwich put to good use sooner rather than later.

The immediately recognisable former banking hall on Bank Plain is soon to be vacated, with the 15-year-old charity entering liquidation and venues inside already closed down.

And while it is too late to save the charity itself, the message is clear from the city community - the building must continue to be an asset.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis, whose constituency the building is in, said the “community feel” of the building had to be maintained, himself having to give up his offices in the building as a result of the collapse.

Paul Burall from the Norwich SocietyPaul Burall from the Norwich Society

Mr Lewis said: “It was really lovely having my office there and I used to love always having a buzz of things going on around me - there was a real community feel inside.

“The building is such a fantastic space and there needs to be some real outside-of-the-box thinking about how it can be put to such good community use again.

“It has such large halls and classrooms so could be put to use for education or something like that. The last thing I would want is for this community asset to be lost and turned into flats or a hotel. It is really important that it is maintained.”

Paul Burall, of city heritage watchdog the Norwich Society, said he was eager to see the building somehow continue to be utilised as a concert venue and conference centre.

Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District Picture: Sonya DuncanStefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District Picture: Sonya Duncan

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He said: “If there is some way it can continue to provide an arts venue it would be very welcome to the city as a whole. It is probably much too late to suggest some kind of crowdfunding solution but that could be worth considering.

“Obviously any building that size is far better occupied than empty, as they do deteriorate and the longer they are left empty the more likely it may be that somebody will come along and try to demolish it - which we would definitely not want.

“Parts of the building could also be used as office spaces, even for an organisation like the Norwich Society - for us it would be ideal being so central and easy to access.”

Laura Rycroft, chief executive of OPEN Norwich Photo: OPEN NorwichLaura Rycroft, chief executive of OPEN Norwich Photo: OPEN Norwich

And this is a similar vision Stefan Guerney, chief of the Norwich Business Improvement District, could see working for the venue.

He said: “In a blank cheque type of scenario I would love to see it used as a big venue space for the city - although in the post-Covid world it might be hard to envisage how this type of thing would work.

“However, another good option would be something similar to the White Space that was at St James Mill - something offering temporary office and engagement space. It is in an ideal location and could be something a lot more agile.

“I think it is a huge loss for the city as it is and it is a great shame for Laura and the team there. My children have done courses there and they will greatly miss it as will lots of other people.”

Laura Rycroft, OPEN’s chief executive, previously said she would be keen to see the building continue to provide a facility for the community similar to what it has previously been.

She said: “I desperately hope the building itself is not left empty - it is such a beautiful and important building. Everybody involved is absolutely devastated.

“I really hope in the future the building can be put to good use for something similar as it lent itself so well to what we were doing.”

The grade II listed building dates back to 1779 when the Gurney Bank was established, later serving as the regional headquarters for Barclays Bank. It was sold to the Lind Trust in 2003 and housed OPEN from its inception in 2005.


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