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Kettering Bingo Hall: Community Ownership Fund

Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2023

I ask colleagues to move out as quickly and as silently as possible. I will call Philip Hollobone to move the motion and then the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up, as is the convention for 30-minute debates.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Community Ownership Fund and the former bingo hall in Kettering.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Dowd. I thank Mr Speaker for his special permission to hold the debate, and I welcome the Minister to his place to hear the remarks I will make on behalf of my local constituents in Kettering. It is a huge privilege to be the Member of Parliament for Kettering, and the subject I wish to raise today is among the most important I have ever had the opportunity to raise in front of a Government Minister. That is because I speak on behalf of my local residents, who are all behind the bid being made by Beccy Hurrell and Lindsey Atkins of the Beccy Hurrell Voice & Arts Axis Hub Community Interest Company. I fully support, 100%, their excellent community ownership fund bid for £2 million, to revive for community use the former Gala Bingo hall building, which is located right at the heart of Kettering town centre. If the bid is successful, it would be transformative for the heart of Kettering.

The 25,000-square-foot building on Kettering High Street opened in 1936 and was once the home of a 2,000-seat theatre and cinema, orchestra pit and restaurant. It has been empty and, sadly, unloved for more than five years. In 2018, when it closed, Tony Smith, the well-known Kettering historian, said the closure of the Gala Bingo hall would

“end another chapter in the history of this unique High Street building. It began as the Regal Cinema, built on the site of Goosey & Sons’ drapery store and officially opened by Earl Spencer on Boxing Day, 1936. The £70,000 super-cinema had 2,000 luxury seats, its frontage dominated by a central tower with a neon halo visible for miles”

on its art deco frontage. He went on:

“Sunday night stage shows in the 1940s featured the legendary Flanagan & Alan, the Crazy Gang, and Vera Lynn. In 1948”

—after the war—

“the Regal was taken over by Granada Theatres and in the 1960s The Who and The Rolling Stones were among the top bands to perform there. The Gala bingo club took over the building after the Granada closed in 1974.”

It ran it until the bingo hall itself closed in 2018.

Sadly, since then, in June 2019, local police found 2,000 cannabis plants inside the empty building, potentially worth almost £3 million—£1 million more than we are asking from the Government to help redevelop the site. The Kettering Town Centre Partnership then had it listed as an asset of community value, giving local groups the chance to put together a bid if it ever went on the market. Earlier this year, its owners notified the council of their intention to sell it, and the BHVA Axis Hub CIC applied to trigger the moratorium. The company is hoping to buy the former bingo hall through the separate CIC structure and then lock it in as an asset for the local community.

Beccy Hurrell and Lindsey Atkins are quite simply remarkable individuals; I am not sure I have ever come across people with more enthusiasm, entrepreneurial spirit or dedication to a cause. Their laudable ambition is to transform the site into a safe, affordable and dynamic space for the local community—for local businesses, aspiring musicians, students, start-ups and families. They want to create a community hub packed with theatre space, performance spaces, a music studio, rehearsal rooms, hot desks, spaces for community groups, crafting areas and a café. Were Beccy and Lindsey’s bid to be successful, it would be simply transformative for Kettering town centre.

I said that Beccy and Lindsey are remarkable. Indeed, they have recently won a number of prestigious local awards. They were crowned the health and wellbeing business of the year at the North Northamptonshire Business Network business awards, recognising their dedication to promoting wellbeing through the arts. They were also named small business of the year at the Northamptonshire business awards, so they are extremely good at what they do.

There is huge local support for this initiative. Beccy and Lindsey engaged with local media to get the message out about their plans for the site, and there was an article in the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph in February this year. Following that, the newspaper emailed Beccy and Lindsey back and said:

“Just wanted to let you know about the incredible reaction from people yesterday to the story about your plans for the bingo hall. I know you’ve seen a lot of the comments but just wanted to put into context how popular the plans have been! The Facebook post itself reached 116,000 people, it got 1,000 likes and to date 13,000 people have read the story online, with that figure still rising.”

That reaction was in the first 24 hours after the article was published. The newspaper went on to say:

“That’s pretty unprecedented for a story like this—usually those sorts of figures we only see on negative stories/court cases. I hope you’ve also received lots of feedback/comments from people. We quite often do stories about things where people go ‘oh that’s a nice idea’ but then don’t support it, but there’s a genuine buzz about this.”

I hope that the campaign to restore and keep the bingo hall will be successful. I am mindful that the hon. Gentleman has laid out the history. Are there are any famous people from Kettering who could be called upon to be philanthropic and give money to help him and others achieve the goal?

That is a very constructive suggestion. I hope that from media coverage generated by this debate, such individuals might well come forward. One of the main ideas about the £2 million funding bid is that it will get the initiative under way and then attract other investment, whether from individuals or the private sector. It is seedcorn capital to get the project up and running. The idea is for it to be self-financing quite quickly so that it is not a further drain on local or national taxpayers, but the £2 million is needed to get the building up and running again. Hopefully, it will start things off. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that constructive suggestion.

As the Minister will know, the aims of the community ownership fund are to support community groups so that they can take ownership of important local assets at risk of being lost, empower their improvement and run them sustainably for the long-term benefit of the community. Beccy and Lindsey’s bid meets all those aims: I doubt whether the Minister will have received many bids of a higher quality. Indeed, Beccy and Lindsey have submitted a 196-page business plan to the Department. I have never seen a higher-quality bid for anything.

Kettering is a priority 1 candidate for levelling-up interventions. A successful community ownership fund award for this bid would deliver not just one but all five of the Government’s ambitions for community ownership fund schemes. Those five aims are to: increase feelings of pride in, and improve perceptions of, the local area as a place to live—tick; improve social trust, cohesion, and a sense of belonging—tick; increase local participation in community life, arts, culture, or sport—tick; improve local economic outcomes, including creating jobs, volunteering opportunities, and improving employability and skills levels in the local community—tick; and, lastly, improve social and wellbeing outcomes, including having a positive impact on the physical and mental health of local people, and reducing loneliness and social isolation—tick. I know that in his new role the Minister will be paying close and diligent personal attention to all the bids before him. I hope that the strength of the application will convince him that it is fully worthy of Government support through the community ownership fund.

The mission of the BHVA Axis Hub is to be the nexus where creativity, enterprise and community all intersect. Importantly, the site is right in the middle of Kettering town centre. Recently, the town centre was blighted by having an asylum hotel at the Royal Hotel, just a few doors away from the Gala Bingo site. Fortunately, that has now been closed down. The hub would be transformative for Kettering town centre and fulfil the Government’s levelling-up objectives were the £2 million to be allocated.

The mission of the BHVA Axis Hub is, first, about unified collaboration—to bridge the gap between creative minds, businesses, third-sector organisations, Government agencies and local communities, ensuring that everyone finds their sanctuary. Secondly, it is about health and wellbeing—to facilitate easier and anonymous access to services, reducing the daunting thresholds that many face. Alongside that, it will foster an environment where health services are more community-centric, eliminating the need for distant health visits. Kettering General Hospital has shown an interest in outsourcing space in the new venue.

Thirdly, the hub is about professional support. It would be a haven for those working remotely, start-ups, established local businesses and other third-sector organisations to connect, collaborate and innovate. Fourthly, it is about educational outreach. It would provide comprehensive programmes for young people not in education, employment or training, facilitating their transition into education or employment. There would be partnerships with local schools and education institutions to provide apprenticeships and vocational training.

Finally, the hub is about artistic empowerment. There is a huge local creative arts scene in Kettering. Beccy and Lindsey hope to establish a state-of-the-art gig venue/theatre that not only showcases local talent but educates budding artists on the intricacies of gig management, theatre production, stage management, lighting and sound. It would be the launchpad for grassroots musicians and theatre artists to realise their dreams.

As I said in response to the hon. Member for Strangford, Beccy and Lindsey are looking for seedcorn capital to get this innovative venture under way. Their aim is to achieve self-sustainability within two years of operation, ensuring that the hub is financially stable. On the back of the Government’s investment, they would be able to secure funding and partnerships from local businesses, other Government agencies and third-sector organisations to provide resources and services to the community from this central town-centre site. They would be able to diversify revenue streams, tapping into rentals, events, gigs, local productions, workshops and collaborative projects. The social objectives of this bid are also impressive. They aim to increase access to services by 30% in the first year of operation, with a focus on bringing services closer to the heart of the community.

Beccy and Lindsey would launch a comprehensive programme for local young people not in education, employment or training, and for socially isolated individuals. It would target at least 200 participants in the first year, and aims for a 70% success rate in transitioning them into education or employment. Beccy and Lindsey aim to create a vibrant community of at least 100 regular remote workers within the first year; this would foster collaboration and reduce isolation. They wish to establish partnerships with a minimum of 10 local businesses and third-sector organisations in the first year, to provide resources, support and services. They aim to launch the gig venue, which would have the capacity to host a minimum of 20 grassroots events in the first year, and to establish training workshops on gig and theatre management, targeting up to 100 participants.

The social outcomes from these endeavours would be impressive: a reduction in the number of individuals feeling isolated or disconnected in the local community; enhanced accessibility of vital services; improved overall community wellbeing; and the creation of employment, educational and volunteering opportunities, leading to personal and community growth. The initiative would also amplify the voices of local grassroots musicians and creative artists, enriching the already rich cultural tapestry of the Kettering community.

I hope the Minister will agree that the bid is impressive. In year one, 2024-25, Beccy and Lindsey aim to secure the Gala Bingo hall site; initiate immediate remedial works, including the removal of the remaining asbestos; and engage with community stakeholders on the final designs, to ensure they meet the diverse needs of the local community and, importantly, protect the delightful art deco frontage. In year two, 2025-26, they would want to celebrate the successful launch of the building’s front section, which would be fully equipped to serve as Kettering’s premier co-working and event destination, with expanded staffing and operational capabilities, so that it can integrate community-centric events and initiatives. In year three, 2026-27, they wish to commence and expedite the rebuild of the back of this massive building in the heart of Kettering, keeping sustainability, accessibility and community needs at the forefront of design and execution. They would aim to launch pilot programmes, tailored towards education, skills training and community health, and strengthen ties with key local businesses, educational institutions and civic bodies.

In year four, 2027-28, with a significant portion of the building revamped, Beccy and Lindsey would aim to streamline operational processes, ensuring a seamless blend of co-working spaces, event areas and community-focused sections. In year five, 2028-29, they would realise the full potential of the site. The entire building will be humming with activity, following the completion of the refit and rebuild.

The site would become north Northamptonshire’s premier hub for work, creativity, collaboration and culture, and that would deepen the societal impact of the project. Programmes would be expanded, and partnerships improved, for maximum community outreach and enrichment. I do not know of any local organisation that is not supporting this bid, but one of the most important, from the perspective of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, is North Northamptonshire Council, which is fully behind this project. NNC fully endorses and supports the vision of creating a hub on the former Gala Bingo hall site. The vision, values and priorities of the council align very closely with what the initiative submitted by Beccy and Lindsey looks to achieve. Importantly, from a growth and regeneration perspective, it would lead the drive for regeneration of Kettering High Street, and would reach out much more widely to the broader North Northamptonshire community.

There are key local wards that DLUHC has identified for levelling up in its “Levelling Up the United Kingdom” White Paper. NNC’s vision is of a place where everyone has the best opportunities and quality of life, and the hub initiative clearly demonstrates an opportunity and displays the characteristics to help achieve the council’s aims and objective. The council’s six key commitments are: “Active, fulfilled lives” for local people, as well as:

“Better, brighter futures…Safe and thriving places…Green, sustainable environment… Connected communities…Modern public services.”

All six of those aims would be delivered by these axis hub proposals.

Importantly, another central Government initiative is family hubs. NNC is one of 75 councils that have been given funding to put family hubs into practice. The one in Wellingborough is already open, but in the Kettering area, NNC is looking to open up another one in the next period of time. The venue we are discussing would be ideal for such a family hub investment.

Also, the hub would help with other council and Government programmes for children’s centres, community wellbeing forums and local area partnerships. It would help the local business community, help with the relocation of NHS services to the heart of Kettering town centre, which would improve access for those who find it difficult to get to their GP surgery or to the hospital, and foment better Workplace-style projects.

I hope that I have given a flavour of how important the bid is to people in Kettering, how important it is to me, and how much it would benefit not only Kettering High Street but the town of Kettering as a whole, and indeed wider North Northamptonshire. I genuinely struggle to imagine that the Minister could have seen any bid among all those submitted to him in recent months that is of higher quality than the one that Beccy and Lindsey have prepared. I urge him, and plead with him; £2 million is not a huge amount of money, compared with the billions that the Government spend every year, but putting £2 million into the old Gala Bingo hall site in Kettering would be transformative for the area.

It is a pleasure, Mr Dowd, to see you in the Chair, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) for securing this important debate.

We are all too aware of local communities losing beloved assets that foster a sense of community pride and empower communities. That is why, in July 2021, the UK Government launched the £150 million community ownership fund, which forms part of the UK Government’s levelling-up agenda. It supports ambition and builds opportunity through targeted support for places where community assets can make the most difference. The fund helps to safeguard the small but much-loved local assets on which we cannot possibly put a price.

Since the launch of the fund, I am very proud to say that we have awarded £49.3 million to 195 projects across the UK, with £35 million allocated to 131 projects across England, £6.2 million allocated to 28 projects in Scotland, £4 million allocated to 18 projects in Wales and £4.1 million allocated to 18 projects in Northern Ireland.

The community ownership fund has been one of my favourite funds to work with since I became a Minister in the Department, because we get to give the cash directly to the community groups that can really make a difference, as we have heard from my hon. Friend. Recently, I had the privilege of visiting the historical Keighley & Worth Valley Railway. The restoration effort there is not only preserving a piece of history—the railway had a starring role in “The Railway Children”—but enhancing transport infrastructure, supporting local economies and ensuring the wellbeing of more than 250,000 passengers who use this tourist railway line annually. We were able to give the railway funding in the last round of funding from the community ownership fund.

I have even had the pleasure of making it all the way up to the Western Isles, where I visited Laxdale hall. It is using its £300,000 community ownership funding to fully renovate its community space, which it will use to host community sales, supporting local businesses and encouraging social inclusion.

We have made positive changes to the fund for future bidding rounds. We have announced changes in round 3, including allowing applications from parish councils, an extension of the funding cap for all assets, and a match funding reduction for all bids, bringing the requirement down from 50% to 20%. Incorporated voluntary and community organisations, and parish, town and community councils, can make the case for up to £2 million in capital match funding to help a community owned asset that would be at risk of being lost without community intervention. Bidding for round 3, window 2, closed on 11 October 2023, and successful bids will be announced later this month. Once a window closes, all applications are assessed against the assessment framework, which is publicly available on To ensure fairness and protect public money, all bids go through the same thorough assessment and due diligence process before receiving funding.

One of the fantastic things about the community ownership fund is that unsuccessful applicants are welcome to reflect on the feedback they receive, and to apply again in one of our next funding rounds. That is why this is one of the best funds in Government. Unsuccessful applicants are provided with feedback on where their application failed against the assessment criteria, as set out on This feedback signposts to the relevant sections of the guidance document, which applicants can use to strengthen their bid. On top of that, development support is now available to applicants via the My Community website. Our development support provider offers initial support and advice to all interested applicants up to the expression of interest stage, after which certain applicants will be able to access in-depth support for the development of their application and business case. That may also include access to small revenue grants to secure specialist support.

The current round of funding opened a week ago today and will run until the end of January. I encourage all hon. Members to engage with community groups and to encourage them to apply, or at least submit an expression of interest as soon as possible. As I have already said, unsuccessful projects can apply to the fund again in this round. My hon. Friend said that the Gala Bingo hall used to be the Granada theatre, and had brilliant acts, such as the Rolling Stones. In the words of the Rolling Stones, I tell my hon. Friend:

“You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find

You get what you need”.

I hope that that response gives him some satisfaction.

I have heard today about the many merits of the Kettering bingo hall bid, and the impact that the proposal would have on the local community in Kettering. I wish Beccy, Lindsey and the BHVA access hub the very best of luck in this next round of the community ownership fund. As I have said, my door remains open for further discussions with my hon. Friend and any other interested parties on how we can seek to improve bids in future rounds if they are not successful this time around.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.