A TIMELINE for the reopening of the Gamble Building remains unclear, with feasibility and design work on the renovation of its interior ongoing.

The iconic building on Victoria Square, St Helens was closed to the public six years ago due to structural issues making the lower levels unsafe.

After a series of delays, exterior improvements, costing in the region of £1.5m, were carried out and completed last year and the commitment to the town's heritage asset was promoted heavily in St Helens Labour's publicity drive prior to last year's all-out local elections. 

But with no visible signs of progress since then, it has raised questions from frustrated Star readers over what is happening with the project and when access to the building will be restored.

Central Library, which was based at the Gamble, was relocated to the World of Glass in 2020 and the council has stated it has a clear ambition for the facility to return to its previous home at some point.

The ultimate aim is to reopen the Gamble as a community hub, incorporating the library. The building would be set adjacent to the phase one regeneration of St Helens town centre.

However, it appears securing funding for the interior works to pave the way for the next steps is critical for shaping when we could see the cherished building back in use.

Last year, the overall cost of restoring and repurposing the building was put at about £3.5m, which includes the £1.5 spent on the exterior,  but, given the sharp rises in inflation witnessed over the past year, that figure could rise.

One of St Helens’ most famous buildings, and formerly known as Gamble Institute, the structure was originally built as a library and technical school in 1896.

It was supported by funds from Sir David Gamble and was developed to support the advancement of technical and scientific skills among the local population.

Bringing the 127-year-old building back to life is proving to be a lengthy and challenging journey and below the Star attempts to explain where things stand.

St Helens Star: The Gamble Building has seen exterior works carried outThe Gamble Building has seen exterior works carried out (Image: St Helens Star)

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What works have taken place on the building?

The external works at the Gamble Building were completed in the summer of 2022, with improvements including masonry repointing, terracotta repairs and work to the roof.

All windows were replaced and a stained-glass window was taken away to be professionally cleaned and repaired before being reinstalled. The project, undertaken by Bury-based firm, H.H Smith & Sons Co Ltd, was overseen by site manager, Barry Stenson, from Nutgrove.

The restoration of the exterior is noticeable and impressive, which is one of the reasons Star readers have been asking how long the building will remain behind hoardings.

The council says it needs to put together a programme to deliver the necessary internal works before The Gamble can finally reopen to the public.

Last year, the local authority submitted a bid for £40m worth of Levelling Up round two funding, with the bid’s focus including supporting the restoration of the Gamble Building as a modern library and other sustainable uses to become a thriving community hub.

However, while money was secured for Earlestown's regeneration, the bid to support the repurposing of The Gamble in St Helens was unsuccessful.

Speaking after the disappointing news in January 2023, council leader David Baines said: "We have always been clear that The Gamble is an important St Helens regeneration project and we will continue to work on the delivery of this exciting scheme via alternative funding arrangements.

“Our commitment is clear through the approval for phase four of the project.

“This will see designs developed for inside the building which has already benefited from external fabric repair works.

“We remain determined to preserve and enhance this jewel of St Helens town centre and look forward to seeing the final plans for its future.”

Earlier this year, the council said phase four will see consultancy services undertake Royal Institute of British Architects stages two and three, which focuses on the concept design and spatial coordination of Gamble Building.

This needs to be completed before the internal works programme is able to begin.

The latest - what has the council said?

When asked about the timeline for the project, a St Helens Council spokesperson said that works on the interior have not yet started as “feasibility and resultant design work” is still ongoing.

They said the council anticipates that public engagement on those designs will take place in the spring of 2024.

It was added the council cannot commit to further dates as it depends on the need for potential changes to the plans based on this engagement.

The spokesperson said the next step would then be securing funding for delivery and a reopening date for the building has not been set.

The council added it is still exploring a range of funding options, with the design stage informing the costs that it will then look to secure funding for.

The council stressed its ambitions for the Gamble Building are complementary to the wider St Helens town centre regeneration plans.

St Helens Star: Cllr Richard McCauleyCllr Richard McCauley (Image: St Helens Council)

Councillor Richard McCauley, St Helens Borough Council’s cabinet member for regeneration and planning, said: “The Gamble Building is close to the hearts of many in St Helens, so it’s been great to see the external works to restore its beauty completed.

“Today, the Gamble still houses and protects the borough’s historical archive in the building’s basement, the only function that will continue while interior design concepts develop and progress.

“We remain true to our promise that we will return the Gamble Institute to its former glory. Once complete, this refurbished hub will offer a range of fixed and flexible activities, anchored by the return of the library, access to the archive and the provision of youth hub facilities forming part of a related Town Deal project.

“It will be a place where people can come at any time of the day to meet, work, socialise, learn and experience new things, in the spirit of Sir David Gamble’s vision.”

Five step approach

At a meeting on October 9 2019, St Helens Council's cabinet approved a five-phase work programme designed to bring the Gamble back into full use:

This involved five phases, the first three of which have been completed. The project is currently at the fourth stage.

Phase 1 Detailed community consultation on the possibilities of use.

Phase 2 Detailed structural surveys - which have already been approved.

Phase 3 External works programme to be delivered

Phase 4 Internal works and design surveys – to be delegated to the cabinet portfolio holder for approval. 

Phase 5 Internal works programme to be delivered – to be considered by cabinet when costed and designed.