Town Hall meets financial targets ahead of schedule

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ANNUAL revenue targets for Morpeth Town Hall have been met with three months to spare.

The landmark building in the heart of the town has become one of Northumberland’s premier wedding venues, as well as serving as a centre for community events, social gatherings and exhibitions.

It is run by Morpeth Town Council and Northumberland Registration Services under an agreement from the county council and, as well as paying rent to the authority, the management partners hand over a share of the facility’s income.

This year, the county council upped the annual income target to £30,000, but a report to Morpeth Town Council’s Property and Asset Management Committee revealed that £33,000 has been raised from community bookings and weddings in just nine months.

Now the surplus will be ring-fenced for further investment in the Town Hall.

Town Council Clerk Gillian Turner said: “The £30,000 we have to pay to the county council has already been paid and anything over that goes into a ring-fenced pot to be spent on the Town Hall.

“We have got about £55,000 in that pot at the moment, but it can only be spent on the Town Hall, on things that the registrars and the town council agree on as a partnership.

“The aim is that a few years down the line we will make the building cost-neutral.”

Money from the pot has previously been spent on renewing crockery, buying a mat for the entrance hall, adding safety lighting and putting railings up.

Future plans for the building include the addition of a ground floor disabled toilet.

The town council is seeking quotes for the work and initial investigations have suggested that the facility could be installed in office space near the staircase.

Committee Chairman Andrew Tebbutt said: “This is something we picked up on as a result of a number of events, particularly the Hollon Tea when there were about 70 people there.

“It was a bit of a nightmare with only having the toilet upstairs.

“We would have to have conversations with heritage officers about what we do. We want to do something, but it has got to be right.”

The council will invite architects to talk through any plans.

On a smaller scale the committee is also looking to buy picture hanging rails and screens for the Corn Exchange following requests from artists.

The venue was recently hired for a popular exhibition and the artists said the features would be helpful for any future displays.

Members heard that the rails would be discrete, running the length of the walls, and would not normally be seen as there are large permanent aerial photographs in place.

Coun Tebbutt said: “I don’t see the Corn Exchange used particularly for conferences therefore maximising its capacity to support exhibitions would seem to be a good idea.”

However, councillors refused a request to review policies that ban the sale or artwork in the Butter Market of the Town Hall.

Artists can hire the room to display their work, but currently sales are only permitted if the whole building is booked as the Butter Market also serves as a reception area for the council and registrars and a waiting area for wedding parties.

Members also heard that hiring the room for art sales would be cheaper than an artist taking a market stall, which could harm the weekly market, and it would be in unfair competition with galleries and other venues, such as Morpeth Chantry, where artwork is sold.

Councillors were told it would cost around £350 to hire the whole of the Town Hall.

Coun Tebbutt said: “I think we are absolutely right. There are reasons for not allowing sales, except for when an organisation takes over the whole building.

“We would allow people to trade in the Butter Market then because there would be nothing else going on.

“We have no wish to change our policy. We believe it is flexible enough.”

Coun Ed Hillier added: “It could still be feasible for a group of artists to hire the whole of the Town Hall together.”

Technical drawings to install glass safety barriers around the top of the Town Hall staircase have now been approved by the relevant conservation officer.

The work is necessary to meet health and safety demands due to the number of children attending weddings on the first floor and the risk that they could fall through the landing railings.

A revised schedule for the work is now being drawn up.