PROMINENT buildings could be transformed as part of a £1.5m bid to boost a town centre’s business and social engagement.

Cinderford Town Council is taking part in a combined application for government funding with the Forest of Dean District Council and Hartpury University and Hartpury College.

The bid to the Levelling Up Fund aims to achieve £20m for projects across the Forest.

And Cinderford councillors are hoping to obtain £880,000 to help transform the former HSBC bank, the recently-closed Grade II-listed Methodist Church and Rheola House.

The town council has pledged to contribute £643,000 to the project, which aims to change the perception of Cinderford as a place to live, work, learn and socialise.

Their plan is to repurpose the town centre buildings to help business start-ups and social enterprise formations with training, arts and creative networks and wider learning, and entrepreneurship activities.

The councillors say it will complement the Accxel Construction Learning & Conference Centre in the town, the Forest of Dean Growth Hub at Vantage Point in Mitcheldean and the proposed Hartpury satellite learning space at Five Acres.

Cinderford councillor Chris Brown said vacant buildings and a lack of community spaces are key issues for residents in the town, with a 15 per cent vacancy rate which is above the national average.

“We found independent traders are often unable to take that big leap from home trading to high street trading,” he said.

“The vacant premises only exacerbate the decline in footfall and lack of diversity to shoppers in the area.

“The proposals we’ve put forward seek to address this.”

Worshippers decided to close the 171-year-old Belle Vue Road Methodist church - which owed its existence to the mining history of the area - in 2020 due to rising costs, an ageing membership and decreasing revenue.

It will be converted into a place for arts, culture, live music, weddings and other events if funding is approved.

The former HSBC branch on Market Square, which ceased trading as a bank in January 2017 after 95 years in the town, was bought by the town council at the start of 2018.

It is hoped the venue will provide a hub for co-working, pop-up businesses, a café/bar and a flexible space for other uses, and plans also also include the installation of an accessible toilet and baby change unit.

The proposals also include refurbishing Rheola House, which is part of the council’s Belle Vue Centre, to create a business hub for local entrepreneurs.