£6m funding secured towards plans for Forum

Published Wednesday, 28th February 2018

Mark Murphy, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and Anthony McGarel outside the Forum.

A second phase of development at the Forum on Elmer Square, Southend, has attracted £6m of funding from the South Essex Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP).

The contribution will help fund a £19m expansion of The Forum - the country’s first combined academic and public library - onto the area in front of the award-winning building and is a joint venture between Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and South Essex College. Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has budgeted £2.7m towards the project while South Essex College is contributing the remainder.

The two partners have commissioned a detailed feasibility report, which considered a number of options for the development and identified an option that would provide around 5,000m2 of development space, subject to detailed design. The building will have a focus on digital, creative and cultural industries – an area of growth for Southend’s economy and skill base, underpinned by the Economic Growth, Tourism and Digital strategies adopted by the Council last year.

Although plans are at an early stage, it is anticipated that the Council contribution would help facilitate contemporary and community art gallery space and associated office, shop, café and project space to expand the existing gallery offer at the Forum as well as digital workspace for creative digital industries. 

The Digital Workspace aims to deliver affordable workspace for local creative and digital businesses, provide affordable access to the latest digital arts equipment and will include co-working space, meeting pods, workstations, an editing suite and a seminar room.

For the college, the new building would house a public and teaching restaurant, performance studios, music rehearsal and performance space including computer music suites and teaching rooms increasing opportunities for students to gain skills in the sector.

Adam Bryan, Managing Director, South East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: "We are delighted to have been able to award £6m Local Growth Fund to another exciting and innovative project in Southend. This project will enhance the existing role of the Forum in providing an excellence space for the community and being a significant contributor to the economic vibrancy of the town. We are thrilled to play our part in supporting it."

Cllr Ann Holland, Executive Councillor for Culture, Tourism and The Economy, said: “Following the success of the Forum, which has attracted over 1.75m visitors since it opened in 2013, we have been exploring the second phase of the development with partners and funders. Discussion with partners has identified a significant need for additional and reconfigured space by South Essex College.

“The mix of accommodation will, we believe, create a vibrant and lively environment that should enhance the town’s burgeoning educational quarter and also encourage the public and students to visit and use Elmer Square more.”

“I am delighted that SELEP confirmed their funding towards the project, which will further build on Southend’s strong reputation as a centre of education, culture and commerce.”

Anthony McGarel, Deputy Principal and Chief Executive of South Essex College, said: “We’re extremely excited about the proposed new development. It would allow us to increase our popular Digital, Media, Music and Performing Arts offer in Southend plus provide the town with a new restaurant, benefitting students and the local communities we serve.”

Design for the new building would need to go out to tender. However, the partners are targeting completion of the building in advance of the academic year commencing September 2021.