Work begins to turn Wigan's historic Haigh Hall into ‘people’s palace’
Haigh Hall is set to be transformed into the “people’s palace” and will not leave the local authority’s control again.
That was the pledge made by the team at Wigan Council which is now at the helm of the historic building after collecting the keys on Friday.
After a few years in the hands of a hotel operator and a legal battle over its future, Haigh Hall Hotel is no more and town hall chiefs are once again in charge of the hall dubbed the “jewel in the crown”.
The team has also been busy behind the scenes, drawing up plans for the hall and a new garden as part of a £6m project for the building and Haigh Woodland Park.
Coun Chris Ready the council’s portfolio holder for communities, public relations, corporate land, community assets and culture, said: “When we decided to take the hall back, it was a really brave decision, particularly as we knew it would be a big job and a long process, but it is back in our hands now and the people’s hands and we want to make that work now.”
He said council staff had been “chomping at the bit for months and months” to get the keys to the hall and be able to start work there.
He continued: “It’s got to wash its own face and make money for the borough, so we can reinvest in the borough. We also want people to enjoy the hall and the surroundings.”
Town hall chiefs are putting Haigh Hall at the centre of plans to develop the surrounding park and its bid for support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
They will carry out community engagement work and speak to stakeholders to find out exactly what people want to happen to the building.
At the moment they are remaining tight-lipped on how the hall could be used, but say their team’s ideas very much align with what members of the community would like to see there.
Checks have to be carried out to make sure the hall is safe, so Wiganers wil be able to go inside once more.
And there are already grand plans for the surrounding area.
Coun Ready said one thing that would be looked at was the “car parking strategy” to benefit people who live close to the park.
The council has just received confirmation of funding for a pilot bus service from Wigan town centre to Haigh Hall on Sundays. If it proves to be popular, a business case could be put together for the service to be extended.
Involved in the Haigh Hall project are Wigan artists Al Holmes and Al Taylor, known as Al and Al, who also led The Fire Within exhibition in the town centre.
One of the things they have been focusing on so far is the history of the hall.
Al Taylor said: “We have been mining for heritage stories, looking at not just the past like the Lindsays and Crawfords, but before that. There are some incredible stories that we feel have been lost.
“Now amazingly that we have the hall back, we can start to share these stories.
“Our aim is to transform the hall into the people’s palace. We feel that the heritage that we have started to uncover will really surprise people.”
Mr Taylor said there were many stories he had never heard before, despite coming from Wigan, and he hoped to share them with people across the borough and further afield.
He said: “Now we have got the keys back, once we can get into the hall we can start to engage further with groups and people at Haigh Hall.
“Eventually we feel we could transform Haigh Hall into a visitor destination that really could be of national significance. That would take a long time, but we really feel that what we have here is a jewel and it could be an incredible place that would make everyone in the borough incredibly proud.”
Al Holmes said: “We are going to start with a proposal for a garden. We have all gone through a really difficult year and one of the great things is we have really celebrated the NHS and key workers and come to cherish what an important institution the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary is to our town.
“What we realised with our research is the Plantation Gates are opposite the hospital. There is a beautiful space in the park for a potential garden.
“Al has lost both his parents at the hospital and we have had experiences of using the hospital, but at the moment there is nowhere to go if that happens. It’s literally across the road and we thought it would be beautiful to reflect the heritage of Haigh and the hospital.”
While the keys to Haigh Hall may have only just returned to the council, it is clear that the team has been working on proposals for the site for some time.
They are determined to use this opportunity to ensure the historic site is treasured and enjoyed by many, now the deal to run it as a hotel has ended.
Coun Ready said: “It was the right thing at that time to do it and it would have been great if it had worked, but it’s the people’s palace. We took a brave decision to do what we did.
“Everyone has the passion for this. It’s going to work. It can’t fail because we won’t let it fail and we want everyone in Wigan to enjoy it.
“This will never leave the people again.”
He praised council staff and the legal team for their efforts during the court case.
He also thanked everyone who had supported the council in recent years, including the Friends of Haigh Hall, and highlighted the efforts of campaign group Friends of Haigh Hall Heritage and Open Access For All.
Coun Ready said: ”It looks like now we are becoming one team and we have one vision.”
Mr Taylor said: “We want to make the hall the best it’s been since the Lindsays left. We want to transform it into the jewel that it’s always been. We have to take this opportunity now. It’s a generational opportunity and if we don’t do it now, it probably won’t be done. We have to make this incredible. The pressure is on us, we all feel it. We have to make it the best it’s been.”
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