SWT-funded Arts Hub brings new life to historic building
23 June 2022 : Council news, Community, Art and culture
Somerset West and Taunton (SWT) Council has revived one of Taunton’s 17th Century Manor Houses by repurposing it as a new Arts Hub for cultural and creative activities.
The building, known as Flook House in Belvedere Road, will provide office and studio space for creative organisations and practitioners, as well as a conference-ready meeting room for community-based programmes, workshops and vocational learning.
Flook House, which features in Nikolaus Pevsner's Buildings of England and Joshua Toulmin's History of Taunton, previously served as a registry office for births, deaths and marriages. Although still home to key voluntary groups, including ManKind Initiative which supports male victims of domestic abuse and Taunton Advocacy, the Council-owned building has been underutilised for many years.
In 2021, a cross-party working group of councillors tasked with looking at the future of the property, concluded that it should be saved and invested in “for its historical interest and potential social value” with full usage of the meeting space (the former Marriage Room) and offices encouraged.
Consequently, the Council undertook some critical compliance remedial works along with general redecoration of the common stairwell.
Thanks to an SWT grant of £10,000 awarded to Creative Innovation Centre CIC (CICCIC) towards start-up costs, refurbishments and minor renovations to modernise the rooms, the future of Flook House is looking much brighter.
As the building’s primary tenant and driving force behind the Arts Hub, CICCIC is manging the project in collaboration with GoCreate Taunton and Somerset Youth Theatre, as well as multiple artists and designers.
Cllr Caroline Ellis, Executive Member for Culture, and Ward Councillor for North Town where Flook House is located, said: “I’m absolutely thrilled at the development of the Flook House Arts Hub.
"Our mission as a Council is to enhance arts and culture provision in the district and remedying the lack of affordable studio space for artists, creatives and art for the community has been high on our agenda.
"Residents will find exciting new opportunities here and a much-loved historic building has found an exciting new purpose.”
Richard Holt, director of CICCIC, said: “This is a great opportunity for Taunton and by establishing a base where all ages can get involved in workshops, events and hire the space for community activities, means we can provide a much needed safe place using arts and culture to bring individuals and people together.”
Activities will also go beyond general provision. Liz Hutchins, director of GoCreate, said: “In the near future we have art workshops for Ukrainian families; rehearsal space for a singing group and youth theatre; health and wellbeing workshops; art classes; and the list keeps growing.
"This would not be possible if we didn’t have the space to deliver these community-based projects”.
The Flook House Arts Hub will soon be launching a website for members of the public to get involved but in the meantime, inquiries can be directed to Richard Holt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Along with the ongoing renovations and to enhance the outside space, SWT is demolishing the disused toilet block in front of Flook House, which has become a focus for vandalism and low level anti-social behaviour in recent years.
The work commenced Monday, 13 June, lasting approximately three weeks and once completed, the area will be landscaped with grass and slabs to match the surrounding environment.