Government funding of £1.78 million is set to bring new life to Gosport High Street and Stoke Road, bringing major investment into the town and helping it bounce back from the coronavirus crisis.

The council and Hampshire Cultural Trust have been developing an ambitious plan to regenerate the historic town centre for some time. The work was under way long before the pandemic hit.

Now funding for the plan has been confirmed, and it will be a major plank of Gosport's economic recovery from the virus outbreak.

The plan will breathe new life into the High Street and Stoke Road, using empty historic buildings to provide housing, community spaces, restaurants, offices and shops.

The roads are home to a concentration of 18th and 19th century buildings connected to military and maritime trades and traditions. But vacancy rates are high and some of the historic buildings are in a poor condition. Local people have been aware for a while that the area needs investment, and finding funding has been a priority for the council.

The funding comes from the High Streets Heritage Action Zones programme, run by Historic England. It is intended to be a catalyst for wider regeneration, with heritage, culture and local character at its heart.

The scheme will also develop the cultural life of the local community, most notably by redeveloping the town's Old Grammar School into Gosport Museum and Art Gallery. This new cultural hub will be a draw at the top of the High Street and provide heritage, arts, education and culture for local residents and visitors.

Other proposals in the plan include:

  • encouraging more restaurants and night-time entertainment venues
  • revamping the town centre market and exploring the potential for a permanent indoor market on the High Street
  • holding more arts and performance events in Lawrence Square and Walpole Park
  • using grants to encourage landlords to improve shop frontages in keeping with the area's heritage, and bring unused upper floors into use
  • restoring an Edwardian stained-glass canopy at the historic Royal Arms building in Stoke Road and using the front of the building for community events
  • setting up a small business "incubator" providing support and work space for small businesses
  • creating a high street hub to train residents looking for a career in customer services or hospitality

The plan is also designed to boost tourism. Community consultation has shown residents see tourism as a big opportunity for Gosport.

Cllr Mark Hook, Leader of the Council, said: "We've been working towards this for some time and confirmation of the funding is wonderful news. It's even more important now, as our town centre re-opens and we start to rebuild the borough's economy after the impact of the coronavirus crisis. We have a unique town centre which needs investment and new ideas to ensure it's attractive and vibrant, so local people and visitors have lots of reasons to be there. This is an exciting development for the town centre and we look forward to working with our partners on this project."

Paul Sapwell, chief executive of Hampshire Cultural Trust, said: 'We are delighted to be working with Gosport Borough Council on this project and are thrilled to have received such significant funding. The Old Grammar School building has provided education, culture and heritage in Gosport for over 100 years. It has long been our ambition to develop this historic building into a cultural centre that sits at the heart of the community. With this funding, that of other donors and our own investment, we can now realise our vision to turn it into a place where the town's people and visitors can come together to enjoy and celebrate the arts, education, heritage and culture.'

Gosport's historic central area is one of a number of sites across the south east to receive funding for its revitalisation scheme.