At the meeting on 26 January, updates from David Stockdale, Hounslow’s Heritage & Arts Manager, and David Bowler, Chief Executive of the Gunnersbury Community Interest Company (CIC), were particularly useful. It is clear that the current situation is rather fluid as major works are ending and operations are transferred to the CIC
The first phase from the Gunnersbury masterplan, supported by funding from the HLF, the two councils, Historic England and the Friends, amongst others, is nearing completion. Additional grant-aid from the HLF has brought the funding back on track and works are being finalised on the Orangery, the Large Mansion and the planting around it. Information panels will be installed in the Park during February. Benugo are planning to open the new Cafe in early March and when the Large Mansion is finished the new playground alongside will also be opened. The official handover from the contractors is likely to be towards the end of April.
The six board members of the CIC have met for the first time at an “away-day”. A very significant issue in their discussions was engaging the community. They may publish a summary of their Board meetings and their Annual General Meeting may be open to the public. Negotiations on the details of the transfer and the funding are still in progress and will be on the agenda for both Ealing and Hounslow Cabinets in the near future.
For some months it had been hoped that the Museum might open, at least partially, at the Easter holiday. Because the laying of the new surface on the pathways around the Large Mansion depends upon good weather it is unlikely to be completed until May, and public access would not be possible until then. This gives the Museum team a little longer to complete the displays ready for a summer opening. It was mentioned in passing that funds have been found for the reinstatement of the lighting along the main drive; the lighting is essential for evening events and the delay in finding funding could have meant a later excavation of the new surface to install the cables.
Contracts are being finalised for the second phase – works on the sports hub and the new pitches. The contractors’ compound is likely to be established alongside the main car park in the spring. This probably means that it won’t be possible to hold the Mela on the big field in 2018.
David Bowler discussed how developing the events programme is a balancing act, both offering opportunities for local organisations which may earn little for the Park, and others run by experienced professional organisations which will bring a commercial benefit. He reported that he has been talking to local arts organisations about existing events in the area and considering opportunities for working together – for example, the Ealing Youth Orchestra will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2019 and may put on a special concert on the south lawn of the Park.
He outlined plans for two major events this summer. One would be a professionally-run popular music event with bands and DJs. This will have to comply with the requirements of the licence, which will include public consultation. Discussions are also underway with The Secret Group, a well-established events organisation, to run an unusual immersive combined theatre and cinema event in July. For this a special set will be constructed on the site of the burnt-out cricket pavilions and adjoining pitches. Participants would be invited to wear appropriate costumes and the event would run for 4 weeks, on Wednesday to Sunday evenings. It appears that this will require a special events licence and planning permission for the temporary structure, so there will be opportunities for public comment and the organisers are hoping to put on a public meeting in early February at the Old Actonians Club. The details of the financial benefit to Gunnersbury are being discussed and could, for example, include a one-off payment and a share of ticket income.
The Project Team have organised another general public update meeting, this time at the Waterman’s Arts Centre in Brentford on the evening of 27 February.