Sheffield’s Old Town Hall and Courthouse, controversially put up for sale by its London-based owners only two weeks ago as a ’residential development opportunity’, has been taken off the market. The move comes only days after the agents told Radio Sheffield that ‘several enquiries’ had been received. But by yesterday evening (10 September) all trace of the sale brochure had been taken down from the internet by the agents, Michael Berman of Whetstone, north London.
‘It’s a very interesting move’ said Valerie Bayliss, chair of the campaigning group the Friends of the Old Town Hall. ‘Exactly the same thing happened a year ago, when a sale brochure appeared on a different agent’s website for a couple of weeks and then vanished. Clearly no sale took place then and it seems unlikely there’s been a sale now. We wonder what the owners are playing at. As far back as 2008 they advertised the building as for sale by auction, but it never got as far as the auction room. That happened after the Victorian Society included the Old Town Hall in its annual list of the country’s most endangered buildings. There’s a pattern here, and it isn’t one that helps the city’.
The Old Town Hall has been owned since 2004 by London-based G1 London Properties Ltd. Since then, as the Friends have pointed out, the building has been allowed to suffer serious decay. ‘This is a Grade 2 listed building’, said Brian Holmshaw of the Friends. ‘It is a disgrace that the owners appear to have done nothing to stop the rot. Meanwhile they advertised it, this year and last, at a price – £2m or more – that looks way over the top given the cost of repairing the damage’.
Meanwhile the Friends are working actively to find out what the building could be used for, and have commissioned a professional appraisal of potential options for its future use. ‘We expect the results of the study by the end of the year’, says Brian, ‘and that it will open up the building to many more opportunities than simply residential conversion – just look around the country. There are many town hall and courthouse conversions, as restaurants, offices and museums as well as housing. Places like Guildford, Oldham and Coventry have found imaginative new uses for them, often a mix of uses. In fact, while housing may be a possibility the layout of the Old Town Hall, with its two huge, top-lit Victorian courtrooms, makes it a challenge’.
The Friends hope that their study will encourage a wide range of potential users to take an active interest in restoring the Old Town Hall and make it once again an asset to Sheffield.
Constitution of Friends of the Old Town Hall, Sheffield
The Friends of the Old Town Hall
The aim of the Group shall be to
*promote and investigate potential new uses for the OTH
*encourage appropriate restoration, maintenance and use of the OTH
*research sources of funding that would support suitable restoration and re-use of the building and the heritage buildings around it
*research potential organisational options for managing the restoration and re-use of the building
*publicise the OTH to spread awareness of its condition and attract support for its restoration and re-use.
In order to achieve its aim the Group may:
- a) Raise money
- b) Open bank accounts
- c) Take out insurance
- d) Acquire and run buildings
- e) Employ staff
- f) Organise courses and events
- g) Work with similar Groups and exchange information and advice with them
- h) Do anything that is lawful which will help it to fulfil its aim.
- a) Membership of the Group shall be open to any individual over eighteen without regards to disability, political or religious affiliation, race, sex or sexual orientation who is:*interested in helping the Group to achieve its aim *willing to abide by the rules of the Group and *willing to pay any subscription agreed by the Management Committee.
- b) Each member shall have one vote at meetings of the Group.
- c) The membership of any member may be terminated for good reason by the Management Committee: provided that the member concerned shall have the right to be heard by the Management Committee, accompanied by a friend, before a final decision is made.
- a) The Group shall be administered by a Management Committee of not less than three and not more than 8 individuals elected at the Group`s Annual General Meeting (AGM).
- b) The Officers of the Management Committee shall be: the Chairperson, the Treasurer and the Secretary/ies.
- c) The Management Committee may co-opt onto the Committee up to three individuals, in an advisory and non-voting capacity that it feels will help to fulfil the aim of the Group.
- d) The Management Committee shall meet at least 3 times a year.
- e) At least three Management Committee members must be present for a Management Committee meeting to take place.
- f) Voting at Management Committee meetings shall be by a show of hands. If there is a tied vote then the Chairperson shall have a second vote.
- g) The Management Committee shall have the power to remove any member of the Committee for good and proper reason.
- h) The Management Committee may appoint any other member of the Group as a Committee member to fill a vacancy, provided that the maximum prescribed is not exceeded.
6) The Duties of the Officers
- a) The duties of the Chairperson shall be to:
- Chair meetings of the Committee and the Group
- represent the Group at functions/meetings that the Group has been invited to and
- act as the spokesperson of the Group when necessary.
- b) The duties of the Secretary/ies shall be to:
- keep a membership list
- prepare in consultation with the Chairperson the agenda for meetings of the Committee and the Group
- take and keep minutes of all meetings and
- collect and circulate any relevant information within the Group.
- c) The duties of the Treasurer shall be to:
- supervise the financial affairs of the Group and
- keep proper accounts that show all monies received and paid out by the Group.
- a) All monies received by or on behalf of the Group shall be applied to further the aim of the Group and for no other purpose.
- b) Any bank accounts opened for the Group shall be in the name of the Group.
- c) Any cheques issued shall be signed by the Treasurer and one other nominated member of the Management Committee.
- d) The Group shall ensure that its accounts are audited or independently examined every year.
- e) The Group may pay reasonable out of pocket expenses including travel, childcare and meal costs to members or Management Committee members.
8) Annual General Meeting.
- a) The Group shall hold an Annual General Meeting (AGM) in the month of March
- b) All members shall be given at least fourteen days notice of the AGM and shall be entitled to attend and vote.
- c) The business of the AGM shall include:
* receiving a report from the Chairperson on the Group`s activities over the year
* receiving a report from the Treasurer on the finances of the Group
* electing a new Management Committee and
* considering any other matter as may be decided.
- d) At least 10 members must be present for the Annual General Meeting and any other General Meeting to take place.
9) General Meetings.
- There shall be 2 General Meetings (excluding the AGM) each year.
- All members shall be entitled to attend and vote.
10) Special General Meeting.
A Special General Meeting may be called by the Management Committee or 10 members to discuss an urgent matter. The Secretary shall give all members fourteen days notice of any Special General Meeting together with notice of the business to be discussed.
11) Alterations to the Constitution.
Any changes to this Constitution must be agreed by at least two-thirds of those members present and voting at an Annual General or a Special General Meeting.
The Group may be wound up at any time if agreed by two-thirds of those members present and voting at an Annual General or a Special General Meeting. In the event of winding up any assets remaining after all debts have been paid shall be given to another Group with a similar charitable aim.
FRIENDS OF THE OLD TOWN HALL
THE PEOPLE’S HISTORY AT RISK
It’s time to rescue Sheffield’s iconic Old Town Hall, say campaigners who are upset that the building, in Waingate, has been allowed to decay for too long. Empty since the courts moved out in 1996, the Old Town Hall now presents a sorry face to the world: dirty, neglected, unused, unloved.
The newly-established Friends of the Old Town Hall say it’s about time the building’s owners took their responsibilities seriously. ‘The Old Town Hall is Grade 2 listed’, says Brian Holmshaw of the Friends’ Group. ‘That means it has special significance as part of the city’s architectural scene and history, and the owners are supposed to take care of it’. Instead, it’s been empty for nearly 20 years. It was bought in 2004 by a London-based property development company.
‘We don’t think it’s acceptable for such an important local asset, part of Sheffield’s heritage, to be left to rot’, says Valerie Bayliss, the Friends’ Chair. ‘We’ve asked the owners to meet us to talk about their intentions for the building’s future’.
‘The building was listed long before they bought it’, adds Joy Bullivant, also of the Friends. ‘So they knew what they were taking on. But it’s been left to deteriorate since and we are now very worried about its condition’.
The Old Town Hall – also known as the Old Courthouse – was built in stages between 1808 and 1896. It was and is hugely important to the people of Sheffield, playing a central role in their lives over many generations. All the way from being the target of Chartist activity in the 1830s, and the place where Samuel Holberry was imprisoned, to being a place of refuge for people made homeless by the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864, and the location of the subsequent enquiry into compensation – the Old Town Hall has been part of the story. And it’s where Charlie Peace was indicted for murder in 1879, to the sound of a huge crowd that gathered outside in Waingate – the magistrates were so concerned about the crowd that the court sat in a corridor! The building became purely a courthouse when the current town hall in Pinstone Street was opened in 1896.
The Friends of the Old Town Hall has been established to campaign for the restoration of this wonderful and important building and the regeneration of the historic area around it. It is seeking grant funding to commission a professional appraisal of potential new uses for the building. It is working in co-operation with the Friends of Sheffield Castle and other organisations with an interest in the area.
The building has already been accepted as one of 10 demonstrator projects in a national programme focusing on neglected buildings that are precious to local communities. The Community Assets in Difficult Ownership (CADO) programme, run by Jericho Road Solutions and Locality, has helped with start-up funding for the group. CADO coordinator Jess Steele said “Sheffield’s Old Town Hall, like too many buildings all over the country, is stuck in ‘delinquent’ ownership that is leaving it to rot. CADO helps communities and local authorities take action in these circumstances.”