Award winning Thirsk tourism centre could be saved

AN award-winning tourist information centre facing its third threat of closure in a decade looks set to be given the publicly-owned building it operates from to secure its long-term future and enable it to develop services further.

Hambleton District Council’s cabinet will next Tuesday (March 8) consider transferring the ownership of the Thirsk Tourist Information Centre’s premises in the Market Place, which has been valued at £37,500, to the group of volunteers that runs the service.

The move comes some 11 years after the Thirsk non-profit venture relocated into the former public toilet block in the heart of the town centre as government funding reductions saw the council hand the service to volunteers.

Thirsk was the last tourism information centre in the district to be transferred to volunteers as it attracted the greatest number of tourists, however its cooperative-style management and ability to function despite having no public funding continues to draw interest from councils across the country.

The efforts of the volunteers, which includes the creation of a website providing a wealth of information about the market town and its surroundings, saw it crowned Yorkshire’s best information centre at the White Rose Awards in 2015.

An officer’s report to the authority’s leading members states that when disposing of assets local authorities are required to obtain the “best consideration”, the main factor in which is the monetary value.

The report states an exception could be justified for the tourist information centre due to the service it provides and if approved the transfer would include covenants that the property must be used to aid tourism services in the area.

One of the centre’s directors, Peter Rush, said while a major part of its income comes from the sale of maps, books and tourist-type goods, the five-year leases it has previously been given by the council presented significant uncertainty and undermined its ability to develop its tourism services.

He said as the information centre was already responsible for the building’s maintenance, any change of ownership would mean no extra costs for the group.

Mr Rush said: “When it comes to the end of the lease one of the obvious things we have to do is run down the stock and prepare for closure and warn the volunteers that we have no future until we get a lease.

“We have done that twice and we have the threat of that happening again in 2024.

“We are trying to put ourselves on a more even keel so we don’t have to go through that process again.

“The council has previously given us a no-rent lease, which is very nice of them, but they haven’t made their mind up until a month before the end of the lease, so we have had that problem.

“We put the idea about transferring the building’s ownership to the council and they have run with it.

“We haven’t thought a long way ahead of getting hold of the building, but once we have we can start to make some firm plans.”

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