The Gannon Rooms
Saxmundham’s Gannon Institute, more commonly known as the Gannon Rooms, is a charming period building located on Station Approach. Its close proximity to the Market Place and High Street give it prime location for use as a community asset. The Town Council, with support from the townspeople during a public consultation, took over responsibility for the building in 2022.
The Rooms provide accessible and good value halls and kitchen facilities for hire for community meetings and for recreational purposes. The building is an important heritage asset for the town.
The Gannon Rooms feature in East Suffolk Council’s Saxmundham Conservation Area Appraisal dated March 2016.
Conservation Areas are defined as:
‘Areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to protect or enhance. These areas make an important contribution to the quality of life of local communities and visitors by safeguarding their physical historical features which sustain the sense of local distinctiveness, and which are an important aspect of the character and appearance of towns, villages and countryside.’
With regard to Saxmundham and the Gannon Rooms, the report states:
‘The overall character of Saxmundham is very much one of an historic Suffolk market town which retains its traditional form and appearance. Despite some intrusive 20th century development, a degree of neglect and some small-scale incremental change, the town centre retains the special characteristics which strongly justify its Conservation Area designation.’
‘The pleasant Gannon Institute building is a particular highlight of the area. Despite being of modest size, the building is extremely well detailed. Note the decorative ridge ventilators and the joinery to the bay windows linked by an open porch. The parapet end gable contains a stone tablet inscribed with the name of the building.’
In taking responsibility for the Gannon Rooms, it was the Town Council’s wish to restore its availability for future community use and to protect its historical value. However, as was made clear when the Town Council agreed to take on this new responsibility, the Gannon Rooms required considerable work to bring them up to the required standard for public use.
The Town Council is committed to ensuring that any refurbishment of the Gannon Rooms is sensitive to the special characteristics of the Conservation Area and particularly the retention of the building’s traditional features.
The Gannon Rooms were bestowed in the late 19th century to Saxmundham via a legacy from a local philanthropic family.
Brother and sister Edward Gannon and Letitia Gannon lived in Nearby Aldringham in the 19th century and carried out many philanthropic acts in the their lifetimes for the local community, including a donation of furniture and 2 stained glass windows for St John’s Church in Saxmundham. Their unusual tomb can be found in the North-west corner of the churchyard with the following inscription: “Edward Michael Gannon: A Man of spotless integrity, a succourer of man in distress, an encourager of the diligent in every path of life.” And “Letitia Caroline Susannah Gannon. She left no relatives but very many around her and at a distance and in different ranks of life to mourn her as a benefactress, as a fostered of orphanhood, educator of youth….ever active in benevolent intentions.”
Her will left a sum of money in trust to be used for charitable purposes which was divided among several charities and hospitals across East Anglia. Four memorial buildings were erected by the trust at Westleton, Thorpeness, Walberswick and Saxmundham.
Since then the building has been put to a variety of uses. Many long-term residents of the town have fond memories of community events there and the Rooms have played a central part of community life for over a century.
The building was also used as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospital during World War One.
In November 1959, The Gannon institute was registered as a charity.
Before committing to take over responsibility, the Town Council conducted a well-publicised community survey to gauge support for the acquisition and continued provision of the Gannon Rooms as a community facility. The results of the survey (Appendix XI) showed that 78% of respondents had used the Gannon Rooms personally and 87% supported the Town Council becoming Trustee and keeping the facility open as a community asset.
An article was published in the Town Council’s Annual Report which is available to the public free of charge and was made available at its Annual Town Meeting held on 27th April 2023.
An article was published in Saxmundham News for June 2023 which is available to the public free of charge.
A page was published on the Town Council website and a post via social media during June 2023.
The Gannon Rooms were not fit for public use at the time that Saxmundham Town Council took responsibility of the building. A building survey was immediately commissioned to determine the way forward for refurbishment works. The report stated:
“The property is suitable for a variety of institutional uses. It is in a generally satisfactory state of repair but has suffered some cosmetic neglect. In addition to the repairs listed, in general only normal maintenance is required.”
In the financial year 2022-2023, the Trustee began the urgent building works and repairs which would enable the buildings’ return to purpose as a community asset. This work included:
- Replacing the gas boiler and cupboard door.
- Installing a fire detection system, fire doors and emergency lighting.
- Electrical works including additional lighting, sockets and meters.
- Levelling and repairing the floor in the main hall.
- Removing the pews in the main hall.
- External decorations.
There is still a fair way to go to transform the Gannon Rooms into a wonderful facility fit for the community, in particular its main hall, which will support community cohesion and integration and restore the Institute’s role in the town’s community life. Further essential works have been identified to enable the building to be made suitable for public use:
- Creation of an accessible WC and reconfiguration/refurbishment of the entrance foyer.
- Repairs to roof cupolas and flashing.
Further improvements to the internal decorations and storage facilities are desirable to create a more welcoming space.