The Armstrong Hall Action Alliance (AHAA) is a group of local Thornbury residents and other interested parties who have formed an action group to reopen the Armstrong Hall Complex (AHC) and to prevent its permanent loss to Thornbury.
On Thursday the 4th of May 2023 a South Gloucestershire Council held the Election of Parish Councillors for the region, including for Thornbury. The result of these elections was a group of councillors more sympathetic to reviewing the plans for reopening Armstrong and Cossham Halls. Following a series of meetings with the various groups who previously used the Armstrong Hall Complex, this culminated in a public meeting on the 7th of December 20. The Armstrong Hall Trust then asked all stakeholders (AHAA/TCA, Turnberries Leisure Centre, Theatre and Music groups etc.) to form three seperate work groups to produce three sets of business plans for the following options:
The Trust has has asked that first drafts of these plans be submitted by the end of January with final submissions at the end of February. The Trust will then make a decision as to which option they will proceed with.
TCA/AHAA are supporting the option to renovate Armstrong Hall and to revitialize the Arts and Community scene. There is of course no guarantee that the Trust will choose the Armstrong option, but our business case is a strong one. Work on the requested business plans is ongoing and there will be an update on this matter at the beginning of February.
Until the start of Covid Pandemic in early 2020 the Armstrong Hall Complex (AHC) in Chapel Street, Thornbury was a much loved venue for the performing arts such as theatre and music groups. Many other community groups also met up there for a wide range of other activities. The complex includes Armstrong and Cossham halls, the foyer and other areas. The Thornbury District Museum is adjacent to this site. The local community were shocked and saddened when this vitally important venue was closed down during the Covid Pandemic (Stroud News 14th April 2021).
In March 2021 the Armstrong Hall Charitable Trust (Thornbury Town Council) announced that they would not be re-opening the Armstrong Hall Complex again (Thornbury Gazette 31st March 2021). The Trust cited that their reason for keeping the Armstrong Hall Complex closed was the high cost of repairs to re-open it and that funds for an ambitious project to rebuild the Armstrong Hall Complex were, as a result of the Pandemic, being diverted away from the project. At the time, the Armstrong Hall Trust also reported that they had already been in discussions with South Gloucestershire Council, the Armstrong Hall Trust and the trustees of Turnberries Community Centre to use it as an alternative community venue.
This was despite the fact that the Turnberries option was evidenced as being by far the least popular option in two public consultations held in 2017 and 2018.
In May 2021, an action group called the Armstrong Hall Action Alliance (AHAA) was formed to try to persuade the Armstrong Hall Charitable Trust to reconsider their decision to permanently close the hall and to allow AHAA to lease and run the Armstrong Hall Complex for a viable period under new management. However, this was to no avail and talks have now stalled. This despite the fact the action group presented a viability study (See AHAA Viability Study and Appendices) to maintain and operate the the hall. We are committed to changing the Trust’s stated closure plans.
In February 2022 Thornbury Community and Arts CIC (TCA CIC) was formed. A CIC (Community Interest Company) is a Limited company which does not distribute any profits to its members and only has charitable aims. TCA CIC is fully co-operating with the Armstrong Hall Charitable Trust to produce the Business Plan to refurbish and re-open the Armstrong Hall Complex. It intends to play a major role in the Trust's plans to create a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation) to run the new community enterprise.
The aims of the Armstrong Hall Action Alliance are:
During subsequent negotiations with AHAA the Armstrong Hall Trust have repeatedly stated their intention, not only to dispose of Armstrong Hall in favour of the Turnberries site, but to also "ring-fence" the existing funds raised by and on behalf of the Armstrong Hall users and supporters and use these for the development of Turnberries. This is contrary to the wishes of many donors who gave these funds. AHAA are committed to ensuring that these funds are used for the purpose that which they were originally intended.
Cossham Hall in Chapel Street, Thornbury forms an important part of the Armstrong Hall Complex. It was built in 1780 and was originally known as The Old Wesleyan Chapel. It is known that John Wesley preached there on several occasions. It was later purchased and donated to the town by Handel Cossham in 1888 and still bears his name. It was used for smaller performances due to its valuable acoustics as well as cultural cinematic sessions. Unfortunately, it does not appear on the list of Thornbury Listed Buildings. It is however classed as an Uncategorised Community Asset and it lies within the the Thornbury Conservation Area which does afford it some protection. However, if the whole Armstrong Hall complex is sold to a developer, there is still a great danger that any site redevelopment could potentially see the Cossham Hall demolished and the link between Handel Cossham and Thornbury lost forever. It is a principle aim of AHAA/TCA to prevent this from happening.
There is a fascinating history of Cossham Hall by Thornbury Roots. See Cossham Hall (Thornbury Roots)
On Thursday the 26th of May 2022 a Public Poll was held about the future of the Armstrong Hall. The resulting vote was an overwhelming 94% in favour of asking Thornbury Town Council to hold a public consultation before deciding upon the future of Armstrong Hall. Although the poll is not binding on the Council it sends a clear message to the them that the community want to see the Armstrong Hall Complex re-opened again. For more information about this very important poll please please see our News Page.