The town centre is on the path to a ‘noticeable recovery’ from the days of the pandemic and is to receive a further boost with the creation of work hubs for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
A planning application from Town Square proposes the company leases two-thirds of the Town Hall in Tunbridge Wells to create office space for 40 SMEs and more than 80 sole traders, plus event spaces and a café.
The Director of Finance, Policy, and Development at TWBC, Lee Colyer told the Times this week: “The town centre is undergoing a noticeable recovery, with previously empty premises being repurposed, new facilities opening and with more people around through changing work habits.”
Mr Colyer explained: “The Town Hall occupies a prominent site and through this co-working announcement it will make a far greater economic contribution to the town centre through longer hours of operation and a diverse range of businesses using the civic site.
“This exciting development for the Council provides an opportunity for cost savings and increased income. Additionally, there are benefits for the wider town community with the increased footfall that will come from businesses locating in this important site in the centre of the town.”
Town Square creates work hubs within existing spaces and supports remote workers, freelancers, and entrepreneurs as they grow their businesses. They have work hubs in North Wales, Oxfordshire, West Sussex, Cardiff, Devon, Herefordshire, and London.
Community Director at Town Square Spaces, Jamie McGowan, told the Times: “When people work local, they shop local – and that’s just one way to benefit our economies.
“When you then support people to start their own enterprises and help them grow, you start to build something special.
“That’s what we’ve done across the country, and it’s what we hope to do in this incredible space at the heart of Tunbridge Wells.”
In their plans, Town Square proposes to lease 19,800 sq ft of the building as co-working space, including offices, meeting rooms and even the Council chamber.
They aim to provide a range of co-working facilities, including conference, event and studio spaces for freelancers and small businesses.
There will also be a café on the ground floor to ‘support the community and Council staff and encourage the general public to come and explore what is on offer’.
The co-working space will also allow access to the outside courtyard.
Mr McGowan continued: “There is already a strong network of local businesses in Tunbridge Wells and with a Council that understands the impact local, flexible workspace that supports grassroots enterprise can make, we knew we would have the opportunity to make a difference.
“Once we were able to take a look at the Town Hall – the potential was obvious – who wouldn’t want to work in such a beautiful building?”
Town Square hopes the work hub will give the Mount Pleasant Road building ‘a new lease of life’ as they provide office space as well as business support through training and workshops.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, many Council staff started working from home and as a result less office space is being used in the Town Hall.
Over the last year the Council has made changes in the building to free up disused offices and transform rooms into collaborative working spaces as workers moved towards hybrid working.
According to Town Square’s plans: “The building will not see an increase in footfall when the building is fully staffed by the Council, but the type of footfall will change. We anticipate when at 85 per cent capacity there will be approximately 40 micro/SMEs and 80 plus pre-start and sole traders using the facility.”
The remaining areas of the Town Hall that will be kept by the Council will be the security rooms, the museum, the vaults, and the first-floor corridor looking onto The Amelia Scott.
They will have shared access to the Council chamber and committee rooms which will be available to be booked for conferences and events as well as council meetings.
The Grade-II listed building will need heritage documentation to approve the changes. Town Square said that consultations with the Council and the heritage team will take place to ‘ensure listed building consent in received before any works are commenced’.