A CULTURAL development agency that has worked successfully with arts venues in Oxford is being called in to help revive Witney’s Corn Exchange.
The hall in Market Square has been closed for a year after a safety inspection found major problems with fire escapes, stonework and heating and electrical systems.
Witney Town Council hopes that Oxford Inspires can come up with ideas for the hall’s future, drawing on recent projects including the Pegasus Theatre and Old Fire Station redevelopments in Oxford.
It is hoped the agency will provide advice on fundraising and help manage the building’s reopening.
The Corn Exchange was closed on November 10 last year. The council has so far spent £72,000 repairing the facade and is currently in a tendering process to appoint an architect for other work on the building.
Councillors agreed to involve Oxford Inspires at a public halls committee meeting on Monday night.
Roger Curry said: “Oxford Inspires claims to provide specialist support and services, including fundraising, for art venues and activities in the county. I think it would be useful to speak to them about what we’re trying to do here.
“The idea would be they produce a report recommending the facilities and layout that are necessary to attract professional theatrical groups and also facilities for community activities, arts and drama.
“They could also recommend the right person with the right experience to be employed by us to manage the project.”
He said that the council had “lessons to learn” from the projects in Oxford, adding: “They’re all charitable trusts limited by guarantee, which gives them a wide range of advantages in terms of raising funds from the Arts Council, the National Lottery and charities that are not open to the council.”
Committee’s chairman Toby Morris said: “Most of us will agree it has been a longer process than we would have hoped for a year ago.
“Members have done a lot of work outside the committee to talk to people and look at things, but we’re at a point now where we do not have the skill set and the capacity necessary to actually push these things forward in a reasonable time frame.
“What we’re looking at are various ways we can move it forward, at no cost to the council, to achieve what we want to achieve.”
He said Oxford Inspires would need to work within the process to select an architect, adding: “There’s a lot of work that has been done and we don’t want to go backwards with that.”
The committee agreed to ask Oxford Inspires to draw up a report to the council by February, with the funding options, a business plan and how to take the project to the next stage.
The move will need to be ratified by the full council next month.