Sudbury: Church backs Walnuttree Hospital site venue plan

A CHURCH with a burgeoning congregation is backing plans to turn part of an old hospital site in Sudbury into a community hall and archive.

St Gregory’s Church could use part of the current Walnuttree Hospital outpatients’ department as a church hall, if the NHS can be persuaded to donate the building to the town as part of a planning agreement.

Under plans just released by West Suffolk NHS Trust, Walnuttree and St Leonards hospitals would be converted into flats when services currently operating out the buildings relocate to a new health centre on Church Field Road, which is due to open next year.

Under the proposed scheme, the Victorian core of the Walnuttree – which opened in 1837 as the Sudbury Union Workhouse – would be retained and converted into 36 flats.

But heritage group, the Sudbury Society, is also keen for the outpatients’ building - which is not included in the plans - to be converted for use as a meeting hall for St Gregory’s Church and a heritage centre for Sudbury’s archives.

According to the Rev Canon Gregory Webb, St Gregory’s parishioners would be very keen to take an active role in the scheme, which he said would be a great boost to Sudbury as well as the church.

“Our current church hall is on the corner of Prince Street and Gainsborough Street, which is a long way from the church and involves elderly congregation members crossing the busy Gainsborough Street,” said Rev Webb, who is also currently negotiating for toilet facilities to be installed in the ancient church building.

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“The Walnuttree site is closer so it would be much more accessible and would provide an ideal location if people wanted somewhere to go after a funeral or church function. My understanding is that it would be a community facility, which the church could use on a regular basis.”

Some town councillors were cautious about the idea because of concerns about who would run the community building.

But Rev Webb said the church would be prepared to take a “hands on” role in the initiative.

He added: “I have been involved in similar projects elsewhere where a church has taken the main responsibility for running them.

“This Christmas, we saw the biggest congregations I have seen in the past five years since I have been here, so I am confident that it (the hall) would be well supported.

“In Sudbury at the moment, there are only very large or very small venues so I think a community facility of this size for around 100 people would be a great asset for the town.”

The church has just received draft drawings of facilities it hopes to install in the church.

A formal planning application will be submitted in the next three months and if approved, building work could commence in 2014.

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