PROPOSALS to create a ‘Health Innovation Hub’ at the Gamble will “complement” plans to reshape the building into an arts and cultural space, a Labour councillor has said.

St Helens Borough Council has asked the government for £11.07 million from its £3.6 billion Towns Fund to help re-purpose the building to create a Health Innovation Hub.

The hub will provide key health services, training and co-working space for health-focused SMEs to collaborate and innovate, continuing the success of the St Helens Cares model.

It is one of several schemes included in St Helens’ Town Deal bid, which was developed in collaboration with the public, private and voluntary sectors through the Town Deal Board.

The Health Innovation Hub is not the only project lined up for the Gamble, with the council vowing to reshape the building for use as a community arts, cultural and educational space, in response to an “overwhelming desire” from the public to see a library service return to the historic building.

This was revealed last August when the council announced sweeping changes to how its office accommodation and landmark buildings will be used in the future.

“What people forget about the Gamble is it’s quite a big building,” said Cllr Anthony Burns, cabinet member for wellbeing, culture and heritage

“The library service in the Gamble was only ever on one floor, but there are three floors in the Gamble plus the basement. It is quite a big building.

“So it’s looking at multi-use for that.

“The arts and culture vision is still there, mainly because that’s what the public want. We went out to public consultation.

“It was by far the biggest thing that people talked about, library back in the Gamble. But I think what we need to do is more than just that service, looking at everything as a whole.

“The Health Innovation Hub, if it’s successful, complements the other ideas that we’ve had.”

The Gamble Building was officially opened in 1896 as a gift to the people of the borough by Sir David Gamble.

The closure of Central Library, based in the Gamble, in March 2017 created much uncertainty around its future.

But in February 2020, Cllr David Baines, leader of the council, said the authority was “fully committed to repairing and reopening the Gamble”.

He added that the council needed to look at its long-term sustainability, and “protect it for future generations”.

A key stumbling block to any project associated with the building is the sheer cost of modernising it and making it fit for purpose.

A building survey report acquired via a freedom of information request in March 2019 estimated that it would cost £2.16 million to make the repairs needed throughout the building, as well as replacing building services such as plumbing and electrics.

The building survey report, which was carried out by property and construction consultants, Gleed, highlighted a series of health and safety issues throughout the building.

These include a number of debonding ceilings, which have prevented further use of various floors and rooms and is what led to the closure of the library.

Cllr Burns said progress has been made with the Gamble, but said the project  has been more difficult due to the pandemic.

“There’s a lot more than just the repairs to the building,” Cllr Burns said.

“It’s much more than just a repair, it’s making sure it’s fit for purpose.

“It is a big job, but I think just because of the situation, Covid’s kind of taken over and it’s more important that we look after that side of things.”