OXFORD – The Wilaya Trust charity organization, based in Oxford, UK, revealed its plan to lease Somerset House, the last pub in Marston village, and transform it into a community hub.
“The trust would like to reopen the Somerset as a family-friendly café and social space for the local community, with the trust’s offices and a learning-resource center above,” said Mary Clarkson, a city councilor, Oxford Mail reported on February 25.
The derelict house is planned to reopen soon as a Muslim education center and cafe.
“As an Asset of Community Value, we recognize the local community will be interested in our plans,” said Dr. Claire El Mouden, a project manager for the trust.
However, Marston’s councilors raised concerns about the plan, citing multiple attempts by the community of Marston to retain the building as a pub since it closed in 2014.
“The owner can lease to whoever they like as that is a private business deal but Somerset House was listed as an Asset of Community Value in April 2016 so that means any change of use would require a planning application,” Clarkson claimed.
In response to these concerns, El Mouden clarified that they “are asking Oxford City Council for pre-planning advice, as it’s unclear whether running the Somerset as a café and community hub, with the trust offices upstairs, constitutes a change of use.”
“Before we submit any planning applications, we will speak to our neighbors, councilors, and community groups, and hold a public meeting at the Marston Scout Hut to seek feedback on our plans,” she continued.
She invited anyone who wanted to receive updates to email [email protected].
The trust’s website states immediate costs for securing the lease and the first year of operations as £210,000.
This price will go towards securing the building, hiring a professional educationalist and part-time administrator to begin projects, and launching the café.
An artist’s impression of how the building would be transformed shows a new glass extension which would house seating for diners.
A Marston resident, Sarah Mohsin, who lives across the road from the Somerset House and is part of the trust’s finance team, believes there is “a local need for the facility.”
“We hope that the Somerset Café will be popular with Marston residents of all ages. As a mum of three, I’m particularly excited about our plans to improve the garden, as currently there’s nowhere I can have lunch with friends while the children play safely outside.”