THE future of the Priory is now in the hands of a mental health charity.
The leader of Thatcham Town Council Jason Collis (Con, Thatcham North) and town mayor Ellen Crumly handed over the keys to Response last week.
The Oxfordshire-based charity is to convert the building into accommodation for 10 people with mental health issues.
Chief executive of Response John McLaughlin said that the charity would be working to reintegrate the tenants back into the community, using the Priory as a step-down facility from hospitals and other services.
“As the building is being renovated, we will identify people to come in and what they want to do with the rooms and the garden,” he said.
“We want it to be very much part of the community.”
The Conservative-controlled town council opted to lease the Priory to Response after its plans to sell off the building to a private buyer fell through at the 11th hour.
The charity had said that it would not sign a lease until it had secured planning permission, which was granted in July.
“It’s a landmark day for us,” Mr McLaughlin said.
“We have been working on this now for over 12 months. Projects like this take time, they take a lot of work and a lot of leadership in all the organisations involved, but we will provide a vital service for people with mental health issues in West Berkshire.
“We are grateful for the support from Thatcham Town Council and Jason Collis in particular, and also Berkshire Health NHS Foundation Trust who have worked with us to get to this day, and we look forward to it opening now.”
Response is hopeful that the building will be operational in April next year.
The Priory has been a contentious subject between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, who purchased the building from West Berkshire Council in 2009.
The Lib Dems had sought to use the building as a community hub and town council offices, while leasing out the Brownsfield Road offices to generate additional income.
But the Conservatives, who view the scheme as a “colossal waste of taxpayers money”, killed the dream when they gained control of the town council in 2015.
Mr Collis said that Response’s work at the Priory would “change people’s lives”.
“We are over the moon that we have now come to the end of the process in getting a tenant and we think it’s the best solution,” he said.
“We retain the asset and we have a tenant in Response whose job is to help people get healthier and they are going to work with the community, so it’s a complete win win for us.”
The saga isn’t over quite yet as Response needs to resubmit its plans for the building, owing to a technical error.
Response has recently renovated a building in Oxfordshire for a similar use as the Priory and you can watch the project below.