£7m redevelopment planned for Bishop’s Stortford site which has hosted David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, The Who, The Animals and The Moody Blues

Bishop’s Stortford Borough Council has received a request for a £2.1 million grant to help transform South Mill Arts.

Bishop’s Stortford Museum and Arts Charitable Incorporated Organization (BSMACIO), which runs the arts venue in South Road, wants a share of £6.5m the council is set to invest in sport and community capital projects in the city.

On Monday evening (January 24), the council’s finance and policy committee was told the funding would fund a ‘new free exhibition area’ for the museum to showcase Stortford’s musical heritage celebrating acts who have performed in center auditorium and went on to acclaim around the world – such as David Bowie, Stevie Wonder and Lulu as well as iconic bands such as The Who, The Animals, The Moody Blues and The Small Faces.

Maps of South Mill Arts (54403430)

The redevelopment – which is likely to cost £7million in total, with the balance coming from other sources – will also include a recording studio and production room to train the engineers of the future.

A new “fit for purpose drama/dance and arts rehearsal space” replacing the existing dance studio is on the cards for use by tenants and for South Mill Arts to host its own group of theater for young people.

BSMACIO said the change would meet the growing demand for studio space and provide additional opportunities for heritage and educational activities in line with its charitable goals.

Maps of South Mill Arts (54403434)
Maps of South Mill Arts (54403434)

A newly built dance studio on the first floor “will add an architectural touch to the current elevation” and will allow solar panels on the roof to generate most of the centre’s heating needs.

A mezzanine will showcase art installations and free exhibits.

BSMACIO told the board: “Sustaining the infrastructure of our buildings to ensure that our venue is a safe, accessible and adaptable environment for artists, audiences, staff and visitors. This includes recovering the roof over above the auditorium, improved elevator access and new and additional sanitary facilities.”

The program also promises significant improvements in access and facilities for people with disabilities.

Maps of South Mill Arts (54403436)
Maps of South Mill Arts (54403436)

The City Council already gives South Mill Arts, formerly Rhodes Arts Complex, an annual grant of £255,000. BSMACIO said additional funding will “protect and significantly enhance the heritage, performing arts and community cultural facilities and services available to residents of Bishop’s Stortford”.

He also argued that the works would save money, including reductions of 50% (£12,000 per year) in equipment maintenance costs, 20% (£2,000 per year) in costs building maintenance and 100% of gas costs – currently £7,000 a year.

BSMACIO warned: “If we do nothing, the ongoing cost of these repairs will reach a minimum of £280,000 over the next 20 years – and this assumes that key items of obsolete equipment will continue to be available.”

Southern Mill Arts
Southern Mill Arts

Around 4,500 new users are expected as part of the upgrade. In the year to March 2020, South Mill Arts welcomed over 130,000 visitors for a wide range of events and activities, against a population of 40,000.

The City Council was expected to help fund East Herts Council’s £30m plans for an arts center on the causeway as part of the development of Old River Lane in the district, but its support is being put on hold in doubt after plans were downgraded, scrapping the theater aspect to save £14.5million.

South Mill Arts was formerly the Rhodes Arts Complex.  Photo: Vikki Lince
South Mill Arts was formerly the Rhodes Arts Complex. Photo: Vikki Lince

James C. Tibbs