The Old Gaol is an important part of the view approaching Abingdon from the south. Nowadays it is shielded by trees, but when it was first built the construction was stark and unusual. It was the first prison to have three wings from a central tower.
A brief History of this Grade II listed building
* 1811 the Old Gaol was opened as a prison (built by prisoners during the Napoleonic wars)
* 1868 it ceased to be a prison
* 1874 it became a grain store
* 1975 it was sold to the Vale district council and opened as a leisure centre
* 2002 closed on opening of the new leisure centre.
NOT USED SINCE. But there have been various initiatives
A consultation began looking at 3 options ranging from the people's favorite:
a 420 seat theatre and cinema, library, museum, and exhibition space, pub / restaurant / bar
to the least favourite option - commercial use with no community space.
A first report suggested that option 1 was feasible. A second report after a further years work showed it would be too expensive for all the partners, and the report was pessimistic about getting lottery funding.
So now the Vale District Council is looking for commercial developers
The selection procedure has 2 stages.
On 13th July up to 8 developers plans could be shortlisted by the Vale. The plans need to meet certain Vale criteria to go through to stage 2 of the selection process:
* contribute to visual look of area
* encourage access to the courtyard, ground floor and riverside gardens
* make good use of the central riverside location and historic building
* be good value for money in terms of sale price, and if housing is included, it should have a mix of affordable housing
The second phase will involve further-developing the plans and putting in a formal 'money' bid to the Vale
Community meetings have taken place over the last 2 years to see whether a community scheme could run the Old Gaol.
Since March, when the Vale sought expressions of interest from developers, a group called COG (Community in the Old Gaol) has been formed to act as a pressure group to try to ensure:
* the freehold and public ownership is retained
* public access to the river frontage
* some community space
COG express an interest in working together with developers. COG have a petition with about 3,500 signatures that continues to grow. There is also a Cog Blog.
Personally I would like to see something like a cinema / theatre with some events for young people.