The former Museum
The Mansion, together with 74 acres of surrounding parkland, was bought from the Haigh family (local mill owners) for £20,000 in 1893 by the Dewsbury Corporation. It was bought for the benefit of the people of Dewsbury and in 1896 the Mansion became Dewsbury Museum, developing a substantial collection of Egyptology exhibits that fascinated visiting Victorians. It also provided a venue for local events and celebrations both for the town and for local families, whatever their background or status in life. There was a restaurant on the ground floor and accommodation where the current museum reception is, to house the family running it.
In 1974, the Mansion was taken over by Kirklees Council to care for, again for the benefit of the people of Dewsbury, and so it’s Museum services continued to serve all in the locality and beyond.
Kirklees Council’s Cabinet took the reluctant decision to close the Museum on 3 October 2016, due to financial pressures. The Museums Service closed it’s doors for the last time on Sunday 6 November 2016.
Friends of Dewsbury Park Mansion
Following news of the closure, the Friends of Crow Nest Park worked together with local volunteers to seek a way forward that would allow the former Museum building to remain as a community asset, rather than be sold commercially. At a meeting of Council Officers and Counsellors on 13 October 2016, their efforts to retain the building for the benefit of the community was whole-heartedly supported by all of Dewsbury’s 9 elected Counsellors.
The Friends of Dewsbury Park Mansion was formed on 22 November 2016, and the community came together to appeal to others through social media, word of mouth and by holding public meetings and events. There were 7 volunteers on our management committee, working alongside other dedicated volunteers in the community. Kirklees Council then offered the opportunity to apply for a Community Asset Transfer of the building.
We set to work on extensive consultation of local folk and used this to formulate ambitious plans, ensuring that this building would provide exactly what local folk need. It certainly resonated with communities throughout the town, with over 500 individuals Liking our Facebook page, and a mailing list of over 800. Not to mention extensive coverage in print and broadcast media.
CAT and Dewsbury Park Mansion Community Hub
Kirklees Council decided early in 2017 that the Mansion would be disposed of, either through a process of Community Asset Transfer (CAT) to a community group, or by a private sale. It was made very clear that they would also ensure they had all the paperwork in place to put the building straight to commercial sale, should a CAT not be possible at any stage.
The Friends wasted no time in ensuring they were eligible to apply, successfully becoming an incorporated Charitable Community Benefit Society, known as Dewsbury Park Mansion Community Hub Ltd (DPMCH), on 19 April 2017. Although another organisation applied, only DPMCH was successful with our Expression of Interest, submitted on 6 March 2017. We were then given just six weeks to produce a viable business plan – which we did!
After well over a hundred volunteer hours, a comprehensive Business Plan, compiled with the support and expertise of Locality, was submitted to the council on 3 July 2017. A month later, we were told the assessments of the business plan were “on the whole good”, and we could move forward dependant on finding “common ground” on a legal issue. It would then go to Cabinet in November.
Through Summer and Autumn 2017, the DPMCH volunteers worked with the Council on a possible solution to the legal issue, and managed to find one. However, November approached and we were told we would have to wait until the December Cabinet meeting. December came and went, but it wasn’t taken to Cabinet. The DPMCH team did, however, manage ensure that local Counsellors could hold a Christmas Lights Switch On event for the people of Dewsbury, with next to no funding and in just over two weeks.
A new Officer was assigned to our case over the November/December period, but over New Year and early January, two key and founder members of our team suffered bereavements of immediate family members. Amazingly, not long after their loss, both founder members were able to continue their voluntary work because of their passion for the Mansion project, and the fantastic support of the fantastic team.
The new Council Officer has met with the team twice since January. We have been told we should have received full written feedback on the Business Plan and a specific timeline of when the CAT proposal will be taken for a final decision at council Cabinet level. Aside from a few points, and as of May 2018, we are still waiting for this feedback and timeline.
In the meantime, we are strengthening our board, working on securing funding streams to begin the work and set up a paid Project Manager to focus on moving it forward. We’re having Architectural Concept designs created, as well as working on ways of potentially collaborating with others to open up the Adventure Playground behind the Mansion on a regular basis, and there are several other exciting community events planned during 2018 and beyond. If you’d like to know more, please make sure you’re signed up to our eNewsletter via the link below.
We’re not in the building yet, but with determination and your support, together with active support from the Council, it’s not far off. With benefits for local people ranging from direct employment, to voluntary work and training, to supporting small businesses to grow, to providing a beautiful place to relax within the park, to activities for all ages, to tackling social isolation and signposting folk to support they need, and so much more, DPMCH is ready to get going!
Want to Support or Learn More?
The team at Dewsbury Park Mansion Community Hub was formed by members of our local Dewsbury community, for our local community. We would love to welcome you as part of the efforts to provide a welcoming, thriving community business for the benefit of all.
Our eNewsletter will keep you up to date, suggest ways you might like to support, and fill you in on events aimed at strengthening our Dewsbury Community.