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Letter: The Future of Wanborough Barn Is a Model to Benefit the Community

Published on: 30 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 30 Nov, 2020

Wanborough Barn

From: Gavin Morgan

Founder of the Guildford Heritage Forum

In response to: A Guildford 14th-Century Heritage Site Saved For the Use of the People

The medieval Wanborough Barn is indeed a fantastic and unique venue the town can be proud of. The long-term lease Stephen Callender describes is wonderful news and a great example of what can be achieved with patience, compromise, commitment and imagination.

He well deserves the compliment paid him by Cllr Paul Spooner. I also acknowledged the efforts of council officers in my previous letter, but a few years ago the Barn’s future was far from certain. (See: Guildford’s Heritage Treasures Are Not Money-makers For Asset Managers.)

For me, Wanborough Barn is a case of the exception proving the rule. We don’t want enquiries into everything but I suspect we could learn a lot from Wanborough Barn.

Enough people approached me about the Barn to convince me it was threatened with closure or disposal. They prompted me to ask a question to the full council. But I also knew the matter was in good hands when I was fortunate enough to meet Stephen.

I was not party to the details but from the outside it is easy to see why a solution was found. When the council considered the Barn’s future, it already had a dedicated team of volunteers. It was large enough to hire for functions.

In 1997, it had been beautifully renovated as part of a deal with a housing developer and a car park had been added. It was also an integral and well-publicised part of the council’s heritage service.

Finally, it was a prestigious building, among the finest timber-framed buildings in the South East and Grade II*-listed. Finding alternative use or selling it for housing would not have been easy. Perhaps crucially, as Cllr Spooner points out, the professionalism of the locals ensured discussions did not break down and a satisfactory solution was found.

But I suspect it was all these things coming together that clinched the deal. In the other places I mentioned in my previous letter the story was different because one or more of these ingredients were missing.

Perhaps there were no local groups, perhaps councillors forced through plans based on inaccurate figures, perhaps discussions broke down, perhaps there was no obvious commercial use. The result was wrangling over each individual case and we are all losers when that happens.

That is why the KPMG report is so important and we must learn from it. We need a framework for managing heritage and community sites. We must identify the places we value. Finance is important but should not be the only factor in deciding their future.

The council should strive to involve the community rather than push unpopular solutions when there are practical alternatives.

I think Wanborough Barn is an excellent model because this process shows how partnerships with the community can lessen the burden on the council, give locals a fulfilling interest, provide a community asset and benefit the whole town.

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Responses to Letter: The Future of Wanborough Barn Is a Model to Benefit the Community

  1. Paul Spooner Reply

    November 30, 2020 at 9:24 am

    I agree with much of what Gavin Morgan says here, and whilst I find the KPMG audit process mystifying, the conclusions and recommended improvements should be taken seriously by the council.

    There are other similar situations that strain opinion within a council and Mr Morgan’s contribution in weighing up an asset, whether cultural, heritage, or both, have to be formulated with a bias on community and not pure finance.

    There are others that involved intervention in the past, bowling comes to my mind straight away, but also the well-documented support for the Guildford Shakespeare Company and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre are others that I was involved in.

    I hope the current administration continue to err on the side of what makes Guildford great, and that is parks, countryside management, culture and heritage.

    Paul Spooner is a Conservative ‘independent’ borough councillor for Ash South & Tongham

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