What’s next?

We're working hard to get Sowerby Bridge Fire and Water underway. See our latest roadmap here.


The Fire & Water project will create a purpose built venue to provide community training and to house arts, music and cultural events as well as providing space for other community activities.

The creation of a community space on its own is not enough to effect social, cultural and economic change so the proposed site also provides commercial areas to provide a revenue stream to ensure the sustainability of the community centre and space to house new jobs for the town.

This includes the provision of space for craftsmen, artists, and other sole traders to enhance the creativity and cultural flavor of the hub.


Planning Permission

While we were still negotiating with the Council over the lease we decided to push on to seek planning permission for our project.

Planning applications can be simple or complicated – predictably, ours was very complicated because it didn’t fit into any regular ‘Use Class’ as it had to encompass an enormous range of uses – the official term being sui generis. What we did was list all the potential uses we envisaged (and were allowed under the terms of our Lease) and this produced the longest application description we had ever come across. Here it is:

“Conversion of existing buildings including demolition of roof above gym 1 and 2 and creation of an inner courtyard with a new public entrance from Hollins Mill Lane; construction of riverside terraces, walkways; partial demolition of the building and roof to pool plant room and dance studio and raising of ground levels to create a level terrace and parking area; installation of photovoltaics and solar thermal panels; new or altered window and door openings; and change of use from former council offices, swimming baths & gyms, fire station & depot to mixed use combining arts & music, entertainment & assembly, education, community (including meetings, civil ceremonies, conferences) business uses (including craft units, cafe & retail) and ancillary accommodation for night staff (Sui Generis). (Amended description)”
Planning permission was granted on 15 October 2018. Should you wish to study the permission in more detail you can look it up on the Council Planning Department’s website under reference 18/00002/CON.

Attached to the permission were 23 Conditions of Approval but fortunately the Council accepted that as ours would be a phased approach the conditions were grouped relative to specific phases – what that meant was that we are not forced to satisfy every condition at once, and importantly it meant that we could start whenever we were ready. We started the work using volunteers where possible and the planning permission is implemented. We only need to go back to the Planning Department for approval of particular Conditions, at the time when we are preparing to start a particular phase of the work.

Permission granted!

Planning permission was granted on 15 October 2018. Should you wish to study the permission in more detail you can look it up on the Council Planning Department’s website under reference 18/00002/CON.

Charity commission

Our application to the Charity Commission was originally made in late 2016 but we hit significant problems in trying to aim for more than would easily fit into their boxes. We were forced to take professional advice from a charity expert (the costs kindly covered by 2 of our members) but again we have hit problems of definition and we are now re-considering how we can re-formulate our proposal to the Charity Commission.

During this time we amended our Articles of Association which was approved by members at a meeting convened for the purpose.

To help us with this we have started working on a Mission Development Plan which will parallel our Building Development Plan and hopefully bring clarity to our aims. When this process is complete we will look again at an application for charitable status.


What we need

We will always need money! Now that the lease is in place we will be faced with business rates, insurances and electricity bills at an early stage and our costs will escalate. As mentioned above we now have some funds towards repairs to the buildings but very little for running costs. We will need to address how we pay for the increasing amount of administration and will probably have to pay an administrator before too long. An initial estimate is that we will need about £10,000 in the first year, increasing in subsequent years.


We also raise funds at various events such as the quarterly Totally Locally markets, events held in the fire station etc and bucket collections, and other charitable organisations often share out their funds with us.We have also benefited from gifts and payments in kind such as a PA system from Huddersfield University, a 25 foot film screen from Hebden Bridge Film Society, blackout curtains from J & C Joel Ltd, and immense help from EPS Plant Hire, The Works Pub, Skyblazers, J A Productions, D D Porter Ltd; O&W Crawshaw Ltd; Priestley&Taffs Ltd; Ryburn Valley Builders Merchants, Thunderfix, Thor Home Care, Rushbearing, Rotary, Sowerby Bridge Civic Trust and many, many others.

Building work

Urgent work

We have three immediate concerns about the buildings relating to the combined effects of dry rot, rainwater ingress and pigeons – these are the barrier to us moving into any of the first floor rooms and into the swimming pool building. The solutions to these problems can only be found by a large input of cash so that we can employ a contractor to deal with them, or by supporters from the building trade helping out with work in kind. Without this we can only nibble around the edges.

Volunteer days

We completed five morning sessions of voluntary work to clear out plaster from walls and ceilings, remove rubbish and build timber partitions and barriers to pave the way for a community building contractor to remove a portion of the roof over Gym 1 and some timber floors in the front building. Our goal is to create a physical separation to the spread of the dry rot to and from the Library which will enable the Council to complete its own dry rot work in the Library. The relevant portion of the roof was then removed successfully and we now have daylight down into basement! The cost of this was covered by a legacy sum from Calderdale MBC attached to the signing of the lease.

First phase of roof repairs

We have completed the first phase of roof repairs – the rear roofs of the council offices and the roof of the hose tower attached to the fire station. This work was put out to competitive tender and Happy Days Building & Roofing (part of the Happy Days Social Enterprise) carried out the work, the costs being covered by a grant from Sowerby Bridge Development Board. Unfortunately our funds were insufficient to cover the front roof of the council office, nor to remove the willow which is sprouting from the parapet gutter but we’ll tackle these as soon as we possibly can.

Follow on works

We have developed a timetable of works across the whole site (our Building Development Plan) to prioritise the order of work so that we get parts of the buildings into either temporary use or better still into permanent use. The implementation of this Development Plan will depend on the results of our grant applications and will inevitably result in a phased timetable but we are very conscious of the importance of getting the buildings into community-supportive use as soon as possible – we’ve all waited far too long for this!

Small schemes will include getting some plumbing and toilets into the buildings, creating fire escape and access doors in various places and ever more stripping out work.

Historic England’s High Street Action Zone programme

We are the community partner with Calderdale Council in an application for a significant sum to be spent across the town in improving public realm. Our element of this project is to upgrade our portion of Hollins Mill Lane to make it much easier to turn into a pedestrian zone for play and events and to repair all of our Hollins Mill Lane frontage buildings. If this project is given the green light we will benefit from a new roof, replacement windows, some internal alterations and improvements, sufficient to bring the whole of the first floor of the fire station, the council offices and the baths reception building back into use.

The good news is that Historic England has now informed us that the bid has been successful although at mid-June 2020 we still do not know when it will start.

This is a massive leap forward and it goes without saying that the effect on Fire & Water will be dramatic to say the least - we should have all of the buildings facing Hollins Mill Lane in a usable condition, we would be able to expand our facilities to the community and we should be seeing groups, organisations and individuals making full use of these spaces.

Specific Building Projects

Chris Cammiss (Disability Auditor and Trainer) carried out an Access Audit of our buildings on behalf of Visits Unlimited (www.visitsunlimited.org.uk) in July 2019 and armed with this very helpful report we were able to secure 2 grants totalling £12,500 thanks to Imagineer and to Community Foundation for Calderdale. These will go towards constructing much needed toilets.

Since mid-2019 we have been running DIY volunteer sessions working in Shed 2 to get it ready for Imagineer to move in. By the time of the coronavirus lockdown we had installed an electrical supply, removed all of the old baths filter and air handling plant, installed a flood resilient perimeter wall and completed the insulated dry linings, ready for plastering.

We have also continued with stripping out damp plaster and rotten timbers, installed a ring main which now serves 5 separate areas of the buildings and we have started work in the fire station and council office basements to make them available as our drop-in centre and possibly for band rehearsal space.

Nothing has been possible without our willing volunteer work force who have turned their hands to demolition, brickwork reconstruction, electrical first fix, joinery, dry-lining, metalwork and painting. Up until the coronavirus lock-down we were running 3 DIY volunteer sessions each week involving hundreds of hours of lively work. Hopefully this work will recommence in the near future.

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