Cambridgeshire County Council boost for arts project as it looks to increase £150k to £450k loan for Spencer Mill, Soham

Spencer Mill, Soham, and how it could be transformed into a multi use arts and community hub. Cambri

Spencer Mill, Soham, and how it could be transformed into a multi use arts and community hub. Cambridgeshire County Council is to agree to increase its £150,000 loan to £450,000 to help deliver the project. Picture; VIVA - Credit: Archant

Viva’s bid to turn a derelict mill in Soham into a new arts centre will get a massive boost next week when the county council expects to agree to increase a £150,000 loan to £450,000.

The loan represents a sound investment, says a report to the county council general purposes committee and the project has a “minimum risk of business failure”.

The cash, if agreed, could also enable Viva Arts and Community Group to unlock further “significant” funding from The Heritage Lottery Fund.

Chris Malyon, the chief finance officer, will tell the committee that the council was first approached more than a year ago for a £150,000 loan repayable over 25 years.

“Following further consideration by Viva across its business plan and funding streams, the request has now been increased,” he says.

“The requested loan is now for up to £450k, which would entail repayment of a predecessor loan and consolidation into a single arrangement with the county council.”

He said the new loan is in line with council policy “when it supports the delivery of improved outcomes for the residents of Cambridgeshire.

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“Viva proposes redevelopment of the Mill as a social and cultural hub for Soham, as well as the charity’s headquarters.

“The project will regenerate the area, Viva has demonstrated strong local support -there is no large community facility in Soham and no purpose-built theatre or arts centre in East Cambridgeshire.”

Mr Malyon said: “Advance of a loan by the county council will also enable significant Heritage Lottery Funding towards the project.”

Having the reviewed the information supplied by Viva he agreed the charity “reports a sound financial position and robust plans to repay the loan to schedule or earlier.”

The committee will hear that Viva investment will enable “economic development within Soham, as well as producing a financial return on the loan for the county council.”

A report to councillors says Viva Arts and Community Group Ltd, the linked trading company, shows a minimum risk of business failure. The loan will be secured against the value of assets held by Viva.

By next week the council hopes to have clarified the security/collateral with Viva and its other funders.

The overall return on investment for the county council on the new element of the loan is calculated to be approximately £66k (return on investment of approximately £97k for the full £450k loan).

The Spencer Mill project, which is also supported by £180,000 of monies from the Community Infrastructure Levy controlled by East Cambridgeshire District Council, hopes to renovate the Spencer Mill and return it to its former glory for the area as a “self-sustaining community asset”.