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Plans to improve Thatcham's Old Bluecoat School approved

The Old Bluecoat School (46177776)
The Old Bluecoat School (46177776)

PERMISSION to grant a new lease of life to Thatcham's most distinguished building has been granted.

The Thatcham (Old Bluecoat School) Charity had applied to improve and repair the former chapel and school building on the A4 to "benefit more people for generations to come".

The enhancements include improved toilet and kitchen facilities to accommodate people with mobility disabilities, and to make them sympathetic to the character of the building.

Old Bluecoat School Charity chairman Mark Thomas said: "Some items are more of a priority than others but, because we take our responsibility for the building seriously, we need to consult West Berkshire's conservation officer about our ideas.

"Our primary goal is to replace the 1970 era w.c. with a new modern accessible w.c in the same place as the old one. We will then have a chance to create a small kitchen area nearby which will allow improved catering for our visitors."

The listed building consent also seeks to improve wiring, to potentially offer spotlights for performers, and to install a retractable projector screen. The entrance doors will also be replaced, and work to protect brickwork will be conducted.

West Berkshire Council's conservation officer said they were satisfied that the proposals had been "carefully considered and would not cause any harm to the significance" of the Grade-I listed building.

The council said that the proposed works would "help to ensure the long term future of this building by ensuring it remains functional and viable, and by protecting the building from further weather erosion, using sensitive methods."

The cherished building is normally used by more than 3,000 people each year “fulfilling a demand for community space with an intimate atmosphere”.

But with the impact of the pandemic closing the building, Mr Thomas said: "We will need to start fundraising for the majority of the works so, unfortunately, a start on the main items of the new kitchen and w.c is unlikely to be in the near future.

"Like many West Berkshire businesses we have been closed down for most of the last year. We have followed the Government regulations, and we are looking forward to reopening to our old and new hirers, if permitted, from the 21st June."

Murray's architectural guide singles out the building as the most distinguished in Thatcham, describing it as "a beautiful little roughcast 14th century chapel".

The history of The Old Bluecoat School dates back to 1304 when a chantry chapel dedicated to St Thomas was built on the site.

In 1713, Lady Frances Winchcombe formed the Bluecoat School at the building; the school closed in 1914.

It continued to be used for education in the 20th century when it was used as an annexe to what is now Francis Baily Primary School until the 1950s.

The building was then used by Kennet Secondary School until the late 1960s or early 1970s before becoming an antiques shop.

In 2003 West Berkshire Council put the building up for auction as part of an asset disposal programme, but following a public campaign the building was removed from the list.

The Thatcham (Old Bluecoat School) Charity was established to raise funds, repair the building and run it for community benefit.

Ownership was transferred to Thatcham Town Council in 2004, which then granted a 99-year lease to the charity.

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