Belle Vue Community Bid team unveils proposals for heritage centre, café and sheltered housing at Sudbury landmark
The community group proposing a major transformation of Belle Vue House in Sudbury says its long-term ambition is to open up the entire park to the community, ahead of a public consultation next year.
Two community bids and a number of commercial proposals for the landmark have been received by Babergh District Council, which is set to showcase them to interested parties in early 2020, as part of a wider consultation on the future of Belle Vue.
Among the bids is a proposal from the Belle Vue Community Bid team, chaired by Theo Bird, which wants to form a not-for-profit trust to help convert the building into a community venue, centred around a legacy project aimed at celebrating Sudbury’s history.
This project would come either in the form of a silk and fashion heritage centre, in honour of Sudbury’s silk industry links, or a settler’s museum, a concept proposed by Lord Andrew Phillips.
To fund the development, the proposal suggests converting part of Belle Vue House into a café, which would be put out to public tender, while the east side of the building would become sheltered housing.
Polly Rodger-Brown, a member of the Belle Vue Community Bid team, said the group is keen to engage with residents and local councillors, as well as those who have other proposals for the site.
“We’re particularly happy that the people of Sudbury have risen to the challenge of what to do with Belle Vue,” she told the Free Press. “Clearly, people do care.
“Our focus is on opening up Belle Vue to the public. Our priority is protecting, preserving and improving Belle Vue, which we think needs a bit of TLC.”
The other community bid submitted to Babergh District Council proposes turning Belle Vue House into a health and wellbeing centre, working with local providers to offer classes and therapies to support residents’ physical, emotional and mental health.
The future of Belle Vue House and the surrounding park has been a hot topic in Sudbury for several years, with many speculating about what might happen to the Victorian building and the vacant former swimming pool site.
Babergh District Council says the upcoming consultation on Belle Vue, expected to take place in late January, will include an update on plans to redevelop the old swimming pool site with a hotel and restaurant.
Polly, who is one of six principal members of the Belle Vue Community Bid, explained these plans had prompted discussions in the community about alternative ways to improve Belle Vue, which led to this bid.
“We, as individuals, saw this as a great opportunity to improve Belle Vue, which has been a very controversial issue for a number of years,” she said.
“We’re not businesspeople. Any revenue gained from the commercial aspects would go towards the community aspects.
“Our bid is fully costed and has a proper timeline for the work. We believe our community proposals would bring a lot of people into Sudbury who wouldn’t normally visit otherwise.”
The bid suggests two possible options for a heritage space on the ground floor of Belle Vue House.
The first is a silk and fashion heritage centre, with archives and rolling exhibitions of design, textiles and fashion items made from Sudbury silk, as well as a workshop that stages youth-focused craft-making sessions.
The other idea, put forward by Lord Phillips, is a museum of photos, letters, documentaries and lectures that shed light on the lives of Edwardstone-born John Winthrop and the Suffolk people who sailed to and settled in the United States between 1630 and 1642.
This would aim to attract students who are studying this period of history, as well as American tourists keen to learn more about their Sudbury ancestry.
Polly stated that the park café and sheltered housing proposals would serve as revenue streams for the heritage project.
“In terms of the park café, we know from talking to people in Sudbury that this is something they really want,” she said.
“It would extend the life of the park and it just adds to the appeal of Belle Vue.
“We also hope it would be used for public events, which would mean people have a really attractive space to hold their special occasions.
“In terms of the sheltered housing, again, this is something that is much in demand. We think the residents would greatly appreciate being in the park because it’s an outdoor space and will provide a calm, relaxing environment.”
Should the bid team’s proposals for Belle Vue House be well received, Polly added that they are also interested in opening up the park to make it more accessible, including the creation of a car-free piazza.
The group also has a number of ideas for recreational uses at the former swimming pool site, such as a splash pad, a sensory garden, forest schools, community orchards and play areas.
Further details about each of the Belle Vue bids will be unveiled at the consultation next year, with a date and location to be confirmed.
More by this authorThomas Malina