£2m vision to revitalise Saffron Walden Town Hall

Saffron Walden Town Hall

Saffron Walden Town Hall - Credit: Archant

The town hall is at the heart of a multi-million pound vision to introduce “a more sophisticated” way of attracting tourists.

Cllr David Watson

Cllr David Watson - Credit: Archant

Saffron Walden town councillors are preparing a bid for up to £2million of lottery funding to thrust the 250-year-old venue into the 21st century – by allowing visitors to travel back in time.

Cllr David Watson has been tasked with heading up the revitalisation project.

He told the Reporter: “Following the town’s TV appearance [BBC 2’s TOWN in May] we thought we could capitalise on the mass number of visitors it generated by coming up with a more sophisticated approach to showing off Saffron Walden’s heritage. From the moment we first sat down to discuss the future of the town hall we realised there was so much we could do with it.”

Cllr Watson added: “We want to open it up so the town hall becomes a living part of Saffron Walden that anybody can visit.

“There are a number of unique features, like the cells and the old cobble road which runs underneath the lift shaft, and we want people to be able to learn about its history and what life was like in the Victorian times.”

Interactive trails beginning and ending at the town hall are seen as an integral aspect of the modernisation. There could be up to five walks, according to Cllr Watson, taking tourists on a tour of the town’s historic buildings, parks – like Bridge End Garden and Audley End – and the blue plaques launched by the Saffron Walden Initiative in June. The routes could be downloadable from the internet.

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“A lot of famous people have lived in Saffron Walden,” Cllr Watson added. “These audio trails are a way of encouraging people to walk round the town and in turn boost footfall for shops, restaurants and other local businesses.”

Other ideas in the pipeline include an IT suite in the town hall – allowing visitors to sift through historical records through the ages – while talks have begun to team up with the Friends of Bridge End Garden, the town’s museum and Saffron Walden Castle to illustrate support for the project.

In January, the Reporter ran a reader poll to find out if residents wanted the town hall to be restored to its former glory – with the possibility of some public money being used. Seventy one per cent said they would.

At a town council meeting last week it was agreed to set aside up to £3,000 for expert advice about putting together an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, which hands out cash to projects that preserve the nation’s heritage. Councillors hope to submit the bid by early 2014.