‘Voyage Partnership’: Connecting our historic past with our future

Thursday, December 3, 2020

A new ‘Voyage partnership’ has been launched in order to deliver a long-term regeneration programme for the Rochford District, which will boost the local economy and provide better community facilities while reducing future costs.

The partnership will be a collaboration between Rochford District Council and gbpartnerships, who have formally entered into contracts to deliver the Council’s Asset Delivery Programme, following approval at a meeting of Full Council on September 8.

The programme ethos will be ‘connecting our historic past with our future’, recognising how the proud local heritage we have in the Rochford District can work in harmony with our long-term goals for regeneration.

An interactive website https://www.voyage-partnership.co.uk will be used to provide updates as the project develops, bringing to life the plans and supporting engagement activity with residents and stakeholders during the lifespan of the regeneration programme.

The project will include the provision a new community centre to replace the Mill Arts & Events Centre, in Rayleigh, which will provide a boost to the town centre as well as facilities for residents to enjoy.

This new centre will be spread over two floors, facing the Rayleigh Windmill and the sensory garden, and be designed to complement these heritage features.

Upstairs will be modern meeting rooms and office spaces for use by the council and its partners to meet with members of the public – maintaining important service provision in Rayleigh.

Downstairs will be the publicly hireable space which can open out onto Rayleigh Windmill to make full use of the outside space and the magnificent backdrop of the windmill e.g. for weddings or fayres.

This downstairs space can be configured into a single hall which can accommodate 170 people with built in storage and a bar/kitchen area – ideal for larger gatherings and performances.

The downstairs space can also be sub-divided to accommodate smaller groups simultaneously – perfect for exercise classes and community meetings.

The size of the rooms has been determined by analysing the most popular uses of the existing rooms, which were underutilised for their size.

It is not good value for money to simply recreate the existing building as we know, for the majority of the time, very large spaces are simply not used frequently enough.

Consequently, the new community facility will be smaller than the existing Mill Arts & Events Centre but this will ensure its future financial sustainability in a way that the current centre has not been able to achieve.

This means that unfortunately the new community facility will not be able to accommodate the same number of people as attended for the few very large events which have been held in the Mill Arts & Events Centre but the council will be working with existing and prospective users to find commercially viable ways to support those events e.g. by discounting hire charges to enable event organisers to spread their large audiences over a greater number of days.

The Freight House, in Rochford, will also be refurbished to form a new civic chamber and hireable community space, with an extension which can be used as working and meeting space for council staff and visitors.

The public welcome area will be a modern digitally enabled space to allow customers to self-serve should they wish to do so and will have meeting rooms so confidential meetings with the public can take place.

The intention for the Civic Suite in Rayleigh is to re-develop the whole of this site for business use and/or housing.

The other sites within the programme will be developed for high quality local housing – these being at the Council’s current offices in South Street, Rochford, and No.’s 19 and 57 South Street, Rochford.

It is important to note that this summary relates to early/initial designs for these sites, that will be further developed.

A robust and detailed analysis revealed the proposed programme would be more cost-efficient than continuing to operate the existing buildings in their current form due to their age, layout, and the need for significant investment to continue to maintain them in future.

This is the latest step in a competitive procurement process, which has been underway since February 2019, following an Asset Strategy approved by Council almost two years ago and an Outline Business Case.

The term ‘Voyage Partnership’ was chosen because it not only identifies the journey we are undertaking, but nods to our proud and varied heritage, including our links to Charles Darwin’s HMS Beagle (with the vessel’s last known resting place being in Paglesham) and the wider association with waterways.

A series of Frequently Asked Questions about the project is available at https://www.voyage-partnership.co.uk/faqs/

Leader of Rochford District Council, Cllr Simon Wootton, said: “I am delighted to launch the new Voyage Partnership, which recognises the importance of our proud heritage and connects this with future opportunities for growth and prosperity.
“This partnership will deliver a programme of long-term regeneration for the Rochford District, making best use of council-owned buildings and providing value for money, while also providing better community facilities for our residents to enjoy.”

George Farley, Programme Director gbpartnerships, said: “The launch of the Voyage Partnership heralds the next stage of this important programme as we develop more detail into initial concept designs.
“The Voyage Partnership website will be particularly important at this challenging time for sharing news, the latest designs as they develop and for most importantly receiving comments and feedback from the wider public in due course.”
The next steps we will then be able to actively engage with our stakeholders, including local residents, businesses and community groups, as the various schemes come forward.