Trowbridge Town Council leader Councillor Stewart Palmen writes once again for this website on a topic of interest to the town and its residents . . . On this occasion, he explains why he believes that the town’s venue The Civic is a great asset to the town . . .

When I first joined the Town Council over 10 years ago, we were meeting in some rather cramped offices above an estate agents’ premises on Wicker Hill: the Town Council did not own offices and so had to pay a private landlord for space.

There were at the time two dilapidated buildings within the town that it was thought could be used to rehouse the Town Council; one was the Town Hall, the other the Civic Hall in the Town Park. However, both needed huge amounts of work. There was a public referendum held on whether the Town Council should restore the Town Hall and modify it so that it would hold the Town Council offices. The residents firmly voted against this, primarily due to the cost implications. Instead, rebuilding the Civic Hall was decided upon as a better option. Stalwart long-term councillors such as Bob Brice and the late Graham Payne were very much in favour of rebuild work on the new Civic Centre, which re-opened in its present form in December 2011.

What is in the Civic Centre?
The Civic Centre is a large building in the park close to St. Stephen’s Place. The building contains a large flexible-use central hall (the Lansdown Hall) that is the largest venue Trowbridge is able to boast. There is a fully-equipped kitchen for catering for large events, a large bar in the entrance hall and many breakout rooms and smaller venues that can be used for a variety of functions. There is also a purpose-built Information Centre. Upstairs there is the Council Chamber and a more than ample amount of office space. The website for The Civic has much more detail and great pictures https://thecivictrowbridge.co.uk/

Do you like how it looks, as some may think it is a bit odd?
Personally, I love the style of the build with mock copper panels, sandstone and natural wood. It is quite unique and modern, but I’ll admit it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

What is the Civic Centre used for?
It is home to Trowbridge Town Council: officers of the Town Council are based there, primarily in the offices upstairs, including staff for Active Trowbridge, Neighbourhood Services and from time to time some Museum staff. The Council Chamber provides a space for full council and other meetings.
At the front of the building, there is Trowbridge Information Centre that provides information about the town and other areas of the UK to the public and provides a variety of services including the sale of travel tickets. The Lansdown Hall and other breakout rooms are used for events and upstairs offices can also be rented out to other groups and charities (for instance, Trowbridge Future).

What types of events are held?
The main hall has hosted a wide variety of entertainment, from comedy acts, live bands, sporting events, discos, beer and cider festivals, open mic nights, weddings, both large private and corporate events, seminars, conferences, and Town Council events for the public. As well as entertainment, the venue is also used for public planning consultations, blood donor sessions, and as a Polling Station and for “The Count” at local elections. Wiltshire Council also makes use of the venue when short of meeting rooms at County Hall.

Is The Civic’s business kept separate from the day-to-day running of the Town Council?
The venue is run as a separately-budgeted business from other facets of the Town Council, and is overseen by the Civic Centre Management Board. I myself chair the board with five other Town Councillors, Juliet Weimar (Head of Venue Services) and a number of other Town Council officers.

Is the Civic Centre making any money?
Last year The Civic returned a £55K positive return on budget (the first year it has done so).
This shows the venue is now being well-managed and being used effectively.

I heard the Civic Centre cost £5 million to rebuild and that was funded by public works loans over a very long time? Is that debt out of control?
Yes:  the work was funded with a public works loan over a 50-year period and it does make up the bulk of the Town Council debt. This debt though is easily serviced from the Town Council precept (income) and makes up less than one fifth of that income. If a family had a mortgage to buy their house and were able to fund it with less than 20% of their income, they would be very happy and, like us, happy not to be paying money to private landlords.

When I’ve walked past The Civic, I’ve noticed solar panels – how effective are these?
As is my understanding, we don’t own the system – however, we actually lease the roof to www.kennetenergy.org.uk and buy the solar units from them at a lower cost than that offered by a normal energy supplier. If you click the link above, you’ll be able to see evidence of how effective the scheme is, both environmentally and savings-wise to the Town Council.
Our current main energy supplier offers us a 100% renewable energy supply to all Town Council-owned buildings and power supply units: this includes both electricity and gas.

Have there been any beneficial knock-on effects from the decision that was made to redevelop the old Civic Hall?
Once again, yes: prior to the redevelopment of the Civic Centre, there were two long term derelict sites by the Civic Hall. One was the old Tesco site (locally nicknamed ‘Mount Crushmore) and the other the Peter Black cosmetics factory site. It is clear to me that without the redevelopment of the Civic Centre, the risk would not have been taken to additionally redevelop the adjacent area that now is home to the Odeon cinema, a range of well-known restaurants, a Premier Inn, and an M&S Food Hall. The Civic Centre was the clear catalyst for those future developments.

How is The Civic’s business coping with Covid-19?
Like most large venues throughout the UK, it has been hit hard, as nearly all events have had to be cancelled. The Town Council have used the Government furlough scheme for its staff, which has helped a great deal. Some events such as blood donor sessions and flu vaccinations have continued to take place, as have a limited amount of meetings. From the outset of the pandemic, Town Council staff were used to provide Covid-19 support by delivering prescriptions, shopping, etc. for those shielding in the Trowbridge area. Trowbridge Information Centre is now back open, albeit with reduced opening hours. The Civic is still solvent, but things are under constant review and Government guidance is followed very closely and all of these factors will affect what can be put on and when. On the positive side there are a lot of events that will take place as and when rules are relaxed, and one growth area we see is in the use of The Civic as a wedding venue.

 

I think as a town we can be very proud of our Civic Centre and I look forward to seeing it spring back into life again as we move forward into 2021. If you have any further questions about The Civic, please do not hesitate to contact me via email on stewart.palmen@wiltshire.gov.uk or via phone on 01225 753479.