Former Whittlesey police station transformed into council office and flats for Syrian refugees after £600k spend

It may have cost nearly £600,000, but already the transformation of Whittlesey’s former police station is providing dividends.

Sunday, 8th December 2019, 5:00 am

The town council purchased the derelict site in Queen Street for £300,000 from the force in July 2017 and has since ploughed in another £273,000.

And the end result is a fresh looking office, commercial units to lease and even flats for two families of Syrian refugees brought to the UK under a resettlement scheme by former Prime Minister David Cameron.

“It’s an investment for the town and we’ve done it without adding anything to the council tax precept,” says Deputy Mayor of Whittlesey Cllr David Mason.

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Clerk Sue Piergianni at her desk
Clerk Sue Piergianni at her desk

Local authorities are able to borrow money at a very cheap rate, and Whittlesey Town Council is confident of recouping its money by letting three rooms for commercial use, as well as the guaranteed £71,500 rent over five years from the Government for housing the two Syrian families who have already settled well into the area.

“It’s our contribution to the repatriation of Syrians and generates the town money. It’s win-win,” said Cllr Mason.

But more than that, the new facilities are expected to provide a boost for the community according to Cllr Mason who gave the Peterborough Telegraph a tour of Peel House last week.

“We decided we would allow local community groups to use the council chamber for activities free of charge,” he said.

Cllr David Mason outside Peel House

Already it is an offer which has been taken up by seven groups – including for sewing, paper crafts, creating writing and wood carving – with others invited to use the new facility.

The council was spending £9,000 a year leasing its former offices in Grosvenor Road, with the contract due to end next year. So when the police station closed in 2017 with local officers moving to March, the council set up a property working group and bid for the premises, with the offer being accepted by then Police and Crime Commissioner Jason Ablewhite.

A tendering process to design the revamp was won by Swann Edwards Architecture with much of the works being carried out by local businesses.

The new-look building, which is a short distance from Market Square, then opened its doors in October this year.

The new Council Chamber

And during a tour of the premises it is easy to see the remnants of the former police station, beginning at the entrance where town clerk Sue Piergianni sits and speaks to members of the public who pop in with enquiries.

Downstairs, an old cell is now a storage cupboard for cleaners and a downstairs toilet, while upstairs the former canteen is one of three rooms being offered on a commercial rent from £200 upwards a month.

Already, one of the units has been taken up by a security firm which has now moved in.

The highlight, though, has to be the new council chamber which is a smart new room for both meetings and community groups.

And with the council now owning its office rather than relying on a lease, there is no chance of anyone locking them inside and throwing away the key.

“We will be here many years,” added Cllr Mason. “It’s a community resource and something to be proud of.”