Bishop Auckland residents are being asked for their views on £2m pound plans to convert a burned out school, once attended by Hollywood legend Stan Laurel, into offices.
The South Durham Enterprise Agency has joined forces with Durham County Council in an attempt to secure a future for the former King James School building, in Bishop Auckland, and has arranged three public consultation sessions for next week.
The Grade-II listed building was extensively damaged in an arson attack in 2007.
Since then it has been protected by plastic sheeting, scaffolding and a metal fence, but there have been an increasing number of complaints the site on South Church Road is an eyesore.
The aim is to turn the building into an enterprise centre which will act as a base for new and established local businesses as well as offering in-house help to make sure they can thrive.
The planned enterprise centre will offer support and advice services for start-up businesses, be used to deliver entrepreneurial education and training programmes, and host networking events.
The new offices will also provide spaces specifically designed to encourage arts, crafts and food producers and feature shared facilities to reduce costs for the businesses based there.
The funds are being applied for through the new Heritage Enterprise Grant, which helps projects save ‘at risk’ historic buildings and use them to improve economic growth.
The South Durham Enterprise Agency is a non-profit organisation whose focus is to create and sustain jobs in the local community.
It will act as the lead applicant for the lottery funding and, if the bid is successful, manage the building and its operations once restored.
Councillor Neil Foster, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “Our plans aim to not only rejuvenate this iconic building, but see it used in a way that will create new jobs in the area and boost the local economy.
“We would love as many people in the area as possible to come along and see the plans, ask questions and let us know what they think.”
Cllr Rob Yorke, chairman of the South Durham Enterprise Agency and County Councillor for West Auckland, said: “This is an exciting opportunity that we hope will restore a much loved building to not just house new and existing local businesses but offer them access to help and support that can help them thrive.”
The drop-in sessions will take place at Bishop Auckland Town Hall on Tuesday, May 19, from 10am until 5pm; Wednesday, May 20, from 10am until noon and again on Thursday, May 21, between 10am to noon and 4pm to 6pm.