Agenda item

Abbot Hall Capital Redevelopment

To consider a commitment of £100,000 capital funding towards Lakeland Arts’ redevelopment of the Abbot Hall site.




The Culture and Leisure Portfolio Holder expressed thanks to Gordon Watson and his Team for their excellent work – Lakeland Arts had achieved a great deal during Gordon’s time as Chief Executive Officer.


The Culture and Leisure Portfolio Holder reported that Lakeland Arts Trust had ambitious plans to carry out a £8.5 million redevelopment of the Abbot Hall site. The proposed redevelopment would bring improvements that were wide-ranging and transformative and create a world-class cultural destination in the heart of South Lakeland.


In rejuvenating this landmark site, the Trust intended to create a social hub for local communities, with a broad cultural programme and an exciting range of activities for local and district-wide communities to engage with.  Redevelopment of Abbot Hall would enable the Trust to work with communities in new and innovative ways, to grow and sustain important partnerships and develop new ones in a way that was not currently possible due to inadequate facilities.  The project would improve the sustainability of Abbot Hall and care of the buildings and site, which Lakeland Arts had leased from the Council since the Trust was formed in 1957.


Lakeland Arts had been successful in a competitive first round of Arts Council England’s (ACE) Large Scale Capital Grants in June 2017 with development funding to progress the initial development stages of the scheme and had secured progress to the next stage to submit a Stage 2 application to ACE by December 2018.


For the £8.5 million project to go ahead, Lakeland Arts had to secure the £5m investment from ACE and £3.5 million match funding.  ACE investment was predicated on £3.5m match funding. Lakeland Arts had 22% of the match funding secured, including £495,000 from the Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund supported by the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership.  Lakeland Arts Trust had a funding plan in place to secure the remainder of the match funding.


To secure a pledge of £5m from ACE, it is critical the Trust could demonstrate the support of the Council before submitting the full Stage 2 application. Lakeland Arts had submitted a request to the Council to consider making a funding contribution of £125,000 towards the redevelopment project as a commitment towards the redevelopment scheme and demonstration to ACE of the Council’s strategic support for the project at Stage 2 and acting as a catalyst to attract further investment from other funding sources. Officers had considered the proposed scheme and were recommending support of £100,000 towards the project.


Throughout its history, Abbot Hall had built a reputation nationally for curating major new exhibitions and showing art and artists of the highest quality and range, and bringing great art to South Lakeland.  Today, Abbot Hall’s collection was one of the largest and most significant of its kind in the region.  Whilst the site was one of the foremost cultural drivers in the region, it had not been subject to significant refurbishments since opening in 1962.  The Trust’s ability to display works was constrained and the character of the magnificent riverside estate diminished.  Abbot Hall was a Grade 1 listed building and Council-owned asset.  There was an urgent need to make Abbot Hall more resilient and sustainable by investing in improvements to the buildings and the site that supported the Lakeland Arts Trust’s ambitions, artistic programming, learning and engagement, community and audience development, retail and other income earning capacity.


The redevelopment scheme aimed to address key needs that had been identified in the Abbot Hall redevelopment feasibility study of 2016.


The scope of the project has been split into two phases.  In Phase 1 the scope would continue to deliver key outcomes for Lakeland Arts, details of which were provided within the report.  The ACE funding bid would be for Phase 1 and the proposed Council funding contribution would be towards Phase 1. This was the total amount of funding that the Council would contribute over the life of the scheme.


Phase 2 was to be fully scoped and would see a later phase of redevelopment which would be more heritage focused with a strategic approach to the relocation and development of the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry and the sympathetic development of the Old Grammar School.


The Abbot Hall Capital Redevelopment project would be transformative making a significant contribution to the Council's priorities and the lives of local people. This exciting project would allow the Trust to extend its commitment to local people, providing further opportunities for engagement; developing new and extending existing community partnerships and create greater engagement of young people.


Following a period of closure, the ambition was to re-launch the new Abbot Hall in 2022, Abbot Hall’s 60th anniversary year.


In closing, the Culture and Leisure Portfolio Holder said that this was a unique and exciting opportunity to invest in a project in terms of both the Kendal Town Centre Master Plan and the Council Plan.


The Leader commended the Culture and Leisure Portfolio Holder for his effective advocacy and work in relation to culture.


Reference was made to the delay in the opening of the Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories, and the fact that the funding for the Abbot Hall scheme would not be made available until it had been funded and had progressed to construction phase was welcomed.  The Culture and Leisure Portfolio Holder explained that the delay in the opening of Windermere Jetty Museum was as a result of flooding.  He also believed that the match funding shortfall would be met.  He welcomed a suggestion with regard to the need for more details of the history of Abbot Hall to be incorporated within the new development.


Members welcomed and supported the project and proposal, which was in line with the ambitions of the Council, and commented that Abbot Hall was a tremendous asset for Kendal and South Lakeland and one of the finest provincial art galleries in the country.  The Leader expressed thanks for Lakeland Arts’ important work and in particular the outreach work within the community.






(1)        approval be given for a commitment of £100,000 capital funding towards Lakeland Arts’ redevelopment of the Abbot Hall site, as set out in the report and within the Budget report elsewhere on the Agenda; and


(2)        the Director People and Places be delegated authority, in consultation with the Solicitor to the Council, to negotiate the terms of, and enter into, a funding agreement with Lakeland Arts for the capital sum to be invested by the Council.


Reasons for Decision


There are many ways in which this transformational project delivers against the Council’s priorities:-




The redevelopment directly supports the Council’s economic ambitions for South Lakeland.


The project will create opportunities for economic growth. It will support the delivery of the Kendal Masterplan and the Lancaster and South Cumbria Economic Partnership ambition for business growth.


It will further develop the critical mass of heritage and tourist attractions in South Lakeland, growing visits and encouraging staying visitors who will spend in the local economy. Forecast growth in visitor numbers is at least an additional 10,000 visitors per annum.


In creating a quality destination, retail and cafe offer, the Trust will expand the offer of locally sourced products and drive spend from residents and visitors to the area.


New employment, including graduate level posts, will be created in Programming, Front of House and Visitor Engagement Teams. Lakeland Arts will select the main contractor through the Official Journal of the European Union process which enables local companies to compete for the construction work.


The £8.5million project will result in new cultural investment in the district attracting additional inward investment.




The project will act to protect and preserve the heritage of the listed buildings in the Kendal Conservation Area including the Grade I listed Abbot Hall, and Grade II Listed Coach House and Stables and Old Grammar School which is in urgent need of conservation investment. South Lakeland District Council agreed in 2012 to extend the area of the site leased by Lakeland Arts and to return the lease to 99 years to secure the long-term future of the historic site.


An important part of the project is to improve the environment around and between buildings. The proposed landscaping scheme will improve access and promote connectivity to the wider public realm. Lakeland Arts will engage people in the environment through interpretation and involving people in outdoor activity including festivals, externally sited sculpture and children's Summer Art Camp.


Lakeland Arts will overhaul building systems to reduce their carbon footprint and introduce sustainable forms of energy and promote sustainable travel through provision of cycle racks.


The new Abbot Hall site will be of the highest design quality. The design team includes award-winning Architects MUMA, Julian Harrap Conservation Architects, Sarah Price Landscapes, Ove Arup Mechanical and Electrical Engineers and Eckersley O’Callaghan Structural Engineers, as well as specialist advisers and business planners. MUMA will develop a scheme of exceptional quality given their previous experience.


Culture and Wellbeing


The project will greatly enhance the District's culture and wellbeing offer and build on the Council's continuing support for Lakeland Arts as one of the Council's key strategic cultural organisations. Lakeland Arts will further develop the artistic programme, increasing high quality cultural output both independently and in partnership throughout the year.


The capital redevelopment of Abbot Hall will further promote South Lakeland and sustain the District’s reputation as the leading rural cultural destination in the UK.


Proactive contribution to the community is a significant part of Lakeland Arts charitable objectives and Lakeland Arts Strategic Plan which aims to, "involve all in arts and heritage in new and inspiring ways and contribute to the development of local communities."


Lakeland Arts have a track record in delivering broad and high quality engagement activity for schools, community groups, families and adult learners. The investment programme will grow this activity. They will grow their partnerships with local groups and key agencies, including programmes for disadvantaged audiences. They will further the success of existing programmes such as with Manna House and the 'In the Moment' scheme for people living with dementia and their carers. The formal learning programme will support the National Curriculum and help raise educational attainment in local schools and colleges.


Through the provision of a new, dedicated space for learning Lakeland Arts will further enhance their distinctive and innovative offer, enabling communities to learn new skills and gain confidence. The programmes will run all year and focus on families, children and young people and older people.


With an improved and enhanced overall site including the outdoor spaces, Lakeland Arts will increase their contribution to wellbeing, in response to the needs of their users, from the local communities of South Lakeland, and visitors.


The Trust will extend their volunteering scheme with a range of opportunities to get involved and acquire new skills, from conservation and collections maintenance to interpretation and activities.


The Trust will undertake local community consultation to inform detailed engagement and activity plans for the new Abbot Hall.


Alternative Options Considered and Rejected


An alternative option would be not to provide investment in the proposed Abbot Hall capital redevelopment scheme and for Lakeland Arts to lose the opportunity to submit a capital bid to ACE to secure the £5m investment from ACE and for the £8.5m scheme not to progress.


This option has been rejected on the basis that it would be a loss of opportunity to promote economic growth and for the communities of South Lakeland to have a world class cultural facility, programme and activities contributing to the quality of life in the district which in turn helps make South Lakeland the best place to live, work and explore.


It would be a loss of opportunity to improve the Grade 1 listed Council-owned Abbot Hall and the overall site in the Kirkland Conservation Area of Kendal. It would have a negative impact on Lakeland Arts organisational resilience and the ability to develop creatively and operate effectively on the site.

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