Proposals to transform Rochdale Town Hall, one of the outstanding constructions of Victorian architecture in the country, have been granted an initial boost after the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) approved the first stage of a £8.9m bid.

The £688,000 initial award means the council can now proceed with plans to redevelop and restore the Grade 1 listed building, which was opened in 1871 and is one of the country’s renowned heritage assets.

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The proposals include a full-scale restoration of extensive sections of the building and its historic rooms and features, including the Great Hall’s Magna Carta mural, ceiling tiles and extensive stained glass windows. The exterior of the Town Hall would also be restored, cleaned and given better lighting.

Sections of the building which are usually off-limits to the public would be opened up for the first time to create a significant visitor attraction which tells the account of Rochdale’s great history from the co-operative movement and cotton boom to the rich and diverse borough we have today.

Other significant plans include the redevelopment of the old library on the second floor into the ‘Bright Hall’, a new space which will be used for small functions, as well as community and educational events.

How the proposed bright hall could look

Two new lifts and a brand new entrance would also be installed to make the whole building more accessible and welcoming.

These plans would increase visitor numbers to more than 60,000 each year and create plenty of opportunities for residents to get involved.

Splendour and majesty: The grand staircase in Rochdale Town Hall
Heritage asset: The Great Hall in Rochdale Town Hall

Projects linked to the restoration will create an extensive activity programme, 366 volunteering opportunities, ten new apprenticeships and three full-time heritage jobs, that would be funded by HLF.

Approximately 115 people would also pick up new qualifications as part of the project, including 30 students from Falinge Park High School, who will receive a recognised qualification in construction.

Councillor Allen Brett, leader of Rochdale Borough Council, said:

“This support is fantastic news for our borough.

It means we can now put in motion plans for our most important building, which is unrivalled in its splendour and majesty, to be restored to its former glory and, more importantly, opened up to the people of our borough and beyond.

“It’s fitting that the town hall, which is such an extraordinary part of our history, could now help bring the story of our great borough and its people right up to the modern day through the fantastic interpretation rooms and educational spaces which we propose to create as part of this project.

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We’ve been working with Rochdale Development Agency, and our local community on this project to reinvent the town hall for future generations and the initial support of the Heritage Lottery Fund means we are one step closer to realising these wonderful plans.”

Around £250m has been spent in Rochdale town centre since 2010, with important projects like the re-opening of the River Roch, opening of a new sixth form college, which is rated outstanding by Ofsted, and the creation of a new shopping and leisure development, Rochdale Riverside, all being delivered as part of an extensive regeneration programme.

Rochdale town hall, as it looks now
How the outside of the town hall could resemble following restoration and cleaning

The council and its partners will be investing around £25m into Rochdale’s heritage over the following five years on some projects, including the town hall restoration.

A £3m revamp of Town Hall Square is also on the cards, alongside the redevelopment of the area around Drake Street, which was recently named one of Historic England’s ‘Heritage Action Zones’.

The council is also supporting plans, recently submitted to HLF, to restore the Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum. A decision on their stage two bid, which will restore their 1930s building and create a brand new exhibition area, is expected in the summer.

The second stage bid for the town hall will be presented in December 2019, with a final decision expected in April 2020. If funding is approved, the project is expected to be complete in summer 2023.

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