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Sudbury: Charity pulls out of bid to turn redundant Uplands Middle School into community facility

PUBLISHED: 09:00 12 November 2013

Cllr Adrian Osborne at Uplands Middle School in Sudbury.

Cllr Adrian Osborne at Uplands Middle School in Sudbury.

Archant

The future of a redundant middle school building in West Suffolk is once more in doubt after it emerged that the charity interested in leasing the site has pulled out.

The fate of Uplands Middle School in Sudbury has been uncertain since it closed in July as part of the county’s schools reorganisation.

Suffolk County Council exhausted options for keeping it open as an educational establishment and since June, officers have been talking to local groups to see if they would be interested in taking on a lease until August 2014.

In October, it was revealed that three groups had expressed an interest – the Befriending Scheme, the Stour Valley Vineyard Church and the Bridge Project.

They were given a November deadline to come up with a workable plan.

However, the EADT can now confirm that the lead group, the Befriending Scheme, has abandoned the idea because it was unable to compile a business plan within the allotted time frame.

The Suffolk-wide charity was keen to set up a training academy for vulnerable people and offer space to a number of other voluntary and community groups. They devised an outline proposal, but their chief executive Shirley Moore told the EADT: “The trustees didn’t feel we could come up with a full workable plan and sign a lease that would render us liable for the upkeep and safety of such a huge building within the timeframe the council gave us.

“When we asked for an extension, during which time I was prepared to give a day a week to the project to engage with other organisations and potential funders to produce a robust viable business plan for a sustainable community facility, the council refused, so we have reluctantly had to withdraw.

“The county council has known about the school’s closure for at least three years but it wasn’t until July this year that they floated the idea of it being a community asset.

“It feels like they set us an unrealistic target and are just paying lip service by offering it to the community in the first place.”

Town mayor Adrian Osborne, who has been backing the bid to turn the school in to a community facility, described the news the Befriending Scheme had pulled out as “very disappointing for the people of Sudbury”.

He added: “The building is big and it would need modification to make it work as a community facility. There would be a lot of overheads and the running costs would be huge.

“The county extended the deadline on two occasions, but I think they could have given us a bigger window of opportunity to come up with plans in the first place.

“No-one in this town wants to see the school boarded up or knocked down but I fear the site will eventually go to housing. The best we can hope for is a sympathetic scheme that blends in with the surroundings.”

County councillor John Sayers, who has been in on talks with organisations such as Autism Anglia over their possible use of the school added: “It is a landmark building and there will be a lot of concern locally about the thought of it being pulled down.

“Everyone has done their utmost and the county feels it has given the organisations a fair amount of time and they have had to draw a line.”

At a town council meeting last month, the authority’s business development specialist Mark Parker told councillors he hoped the charities would have enough time to put together funding plans and demonstrate a viable use for the building before the deadline.

Last night, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said: “The county council is aware that the charitable trust has withdrawn their interest in the Uplands Middle School site. We will now continue with the standard procedures for the disposal of the site.”

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