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Preferred bidder for former Mill Road Library named

A mental health charity supporting young people throughout Cambridgeshire has been chosen as the preferred bidder for the former Mill Road Library.

Centre 33 plans to use the historic building in Cambridge to increase its capacity to support vulnerable young people in the local area.

The not-for-profit was chosen as the preferred bidder by members of Cambridgeshire County Council’s strategy and resources committee following a tender process between August 2022 and January 2023.

The former Mill Road Library building. Picture: Cambridgeshire County Council. (63420124)
The former Mill Road Library building. Picture: Cambridgeshire County Council. (63420124)

This process was carried out before the sale of the building as the property was registered as an Asset of Community Value.

During this period eight bids were received, with the decision on which offer to progress based on a wide range of factors, including promotion of economic, social and environmental wellbeing. One of the bids was from a group hoping to turn the former library building into an arts centre and cinema.

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, and chair of the strategy and resources committee, said: “We received some great offers for the former library, but Centre 33 really impressed us with its plans for the building. It already has a superb reputation in the county for the support it offers young people going back 40 years and we’re really excited with its ambition to increase that offer.”

Centre 33’s offer is subject to planning permission and feasibilities being agreed and progressed, with a final decision expected later this year. Until that time its offer is not being disclosed.

Should the next stage be progressed this will see the Grade II listed building converted, with support from The Evelyn Trust, into a Youth Early Support Hub to offer young people open-access support with their emotional wellbeing and practical needs.

Centre 33 already operates five hubs, including in Cambridge, Ely, Wisbech, Huntingdon and from a Grade II listed building in Peterborough. It offers free and confidential support to young people up to the age of 25 with a range of issues including mental health and caring responsibilities. It also offers information on issues including housing, finance and sexual health and will be sharing space with community groups where possible.

The decision to sell the former library was made after Cambridgeshire County Council carried out a comprehensive £500k refurbishment of the property, following its repossession from a previous lease holder, which included works to replace gutters, prevent damp and repairs to stonework, brickwork and windows. The quality of the redesign resulted in architects Donald Insall Associates, on behalf of the council, receiving a commendation at the first Greater Cambridge Design and Construction awards event.

The decision to sell rather than lease the building was made to allow the council to recover its restoration costs and reduce its liabilities for repairs in the future.

As the property was registered as an Asset of Community Value it could not be sold before February 6 (six months after it went on the market) unless to a qualifying community group. After this date the property could be sold to any party.

Beth Green, CEO at Centre 33, said: “We are very pleased to be given the opportunity by the county council to progress the next stage of a move into the former Mill Road Library.

“We will be taking the time to fully develop plans for the building and working closely with experts and planners to ensure a sympathetic fit out is possible that allows us to deliver our work and protect this wonderful building.

“We will look forward to hopefully letting the young people of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire know about our plans to support their wellbeing at a new venue and will be holding events to talk more about our work closer to the time. We’re particularly grateful to The Evelyn Trust for their funding support.”

Cllr Richard Howitt, (Lab, Petersfield) said: “I am grateful to everyone from the local community who expressed an interest in the future of Mill Road old library and encourage Centre 33 to dialogue with local residents about the plans within their bid to maintain public access to the building. I know they are a very worthwhile organisation and hope to work with them to ensure they are a good custodian of what is a much-valued building in our local community.”

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