Minister for Levelling Up, the Union and Constitution, Neil O’Brien MP, is in Ramsgate today (May 19) to meet the team behind an ambitious project which has just been granted £300,000 in government funding.
The project to save Pugin’s Grade II listed Granville Hotel in Ramsgate from obscurity is back on track thanks to the grant from the Government’s Community Ownership Fund.
The investment has been awarded to Ramsgate community interest company Heritage Lab to create refurbished spaces at the historic site for exhibitions, community events, shared working and conferences.
Heritage Lab had agreed to buy the 999-year leasehold to the seafront Granville Bars Pugin’s Studios in 2019 but the COVID crisis thwarted their attempts to secure the necessary funding. The government funding means the plans for the Grade II listed architectural property, built in 1867 by EW Pugin, can be resumed.
Previously the country’s premier health spa hotel, serviced by its own private train, the future of the building had seemed in doubt.
Currently unused and in a state of disrepair, the building forms part of the Historic England at Risk Conservation area and part of Ramsgate’s Heritage Action Zone.
The aim is to create a creative hub and events space called Pugin’s Studios.
The original hotel bedrooms have long been converted for private residential use and do not form part of the project.
Bernie Morgan: Chair Heritage Lab CIC, said: “We are delighted to get this fabulous project back on track and can’t wait to get this amazing architectural gem reopened and back to having a productive future and once again be the focal point for the community.
“The once myriad of large thriving venues that the community has used have been converted into other uses leaving nowhere for the community and voluntary groups to hold large events, and despite accelerating demand there are few spaces suitable for the creative industries.”
Rob Kenyon, CEO and founder of Heritage Lab CIC, said the bid was originally made last August but did not get chosen. A resubmission was made at the beginning of this year and Heritage Lab received news of the grant award on Monday (May 16).
He said: “It has been a whirlwind week. The aspiration is to get people in here by Summer next year.”
He revealed that Heritage Lab is looking at taking on a number of smaller Ramsgate projects, expressing interest in the Winterstoke Chine as one possibility.
On completion the project will provide support for up to 75, 100 jobs and apprenticeships and provide a low cost and, where possible, zero cost venue for dozens of local community groups.
Minister Neil O’Brien said:: “This is a fantastic win for the local community who, with the government’s help, will now work to bring a piece of our shared national heritage back to life.
“I think this is a big step towards regenerating the town, building on the Levelling Up and High Street funding.
“This building is glorious and it is amazing that it is so run down. There is so much potential with space for work and offices but also performance and the main room will be a great space for weddings and events.
“People who work here in the future will contribute to the regeneration of Ramsgate and get that critical mass across Thanet.”
The Minister said the aim for areas like Thanet was to “keep coming at it” with grant funding and initiatives “to keep pushing the momentum.”
With the Pugin Studio he said it will mean “a lot of different things to different people” in terms of regenerating heritage and architecture but also aiding the creative community and the town’s economy.
The grant money will mean the project can complete enough work for the space to start being used with the aim of then sourcing more investment.
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay added: “It is the start of a long journey. With this property, and others in Ramsgate, there is such a state if disrepair that the chance of getting a commercial operation to look at it, it would be beyond their ability. It needs this seed corn funding to give it a start and then get match funding from providers such as the Heritage Lottery.
“We have a shortage of large spaces in Ramsgate and this main room can be used for weddings and events and the good stuff in the centre of Ramsgate is then spread up to the East Cliff.”
Pugin’s Chambers will bring life back into the property designed and built in 1867 by Edward Welby Pugin. Once a major Ramsgate and UK landmark, the treasures behind its boarded-up façade have been hidden for some 30 years. All that remains internally of its glorious past is a sequence of spectacular, yet derelict, sea facing public rooms.
Regularly visited by princes and princesses, grand dukes, lords and ladies, writers, actors and the rich and famous from all over Europe, the Granville Hotel guest list represented a “who’s who” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
With 26 spas and baths, a marble skating ring, theatre, and ballroom, it was the premier destination of its day, with guests arriving on the privately chartered first class ‘Granville Express’ train from London.
It was commandeered as a military hospital for the Canadian Government in the first World War, and medical officers who served there include the first Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross and a future Nobel laureate.
Later in the 20th century it was more widely known as a ballroom dancing venue and the Cave jazz club. Its public bar closed for the final time in 1991.
Edward Welby Pugin was the eldest son of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, one of England’s greatest architects, who played a pioneering role in the Gothic revival style of architecture in the early part of the 19th century.
Edward became an acclaimed architect in his own right on taking over his father’s practice, designing and completing over 100 Catholic churches – including a number of cathedrals – across the British Isles before his early death at the age of 41.
Heritage Lab was established in 2018 and using grant and philanthropic investment plans to find new and sustainable uses for historic buildings and community assets. The plan is to create studios, community spaces, entertainment, workspace, jobs, training opportunities and enhance pride in the town.
Anyone interested in helping with the project, making a donation or being kept up to date, can register at http://heritagelab.org.uk/join/