Dereham promised 'second to none' hall

Dereham has been promised a Memorial Hall which will be 'second to none' after town councillors agreed a project to turn the dream of improvements into reality.

Dereham has been promised a Memorial Hall which will be 'second to none' after town councillors agreed a project to turn the dream of improvements into reality.

There have been a number of false starts over the past decade as councillors have looked at ways of updating the hall.

But on Tuesday the council appointed Jeremy Stacey Architects to spearhead a project to carry out improvements in the main hall and bar area and with the toilets, heating and sound system.

Work could start as early as next January and the project is likely to take 10-12 months and cost up to �800,000. Up to �500,000 could be borrowed and one option for funding is selling off land at the edge of Fleece Meadow which got planning permission this week for a block of 14 apartments.

The architect has been involved with a range of improvements to community buildings, including redesigning Swaffham Assembly Rooms.

Meetings have already been planned with Dereham Operatic Society, the Dereham Access Group and other regular users and there will be a public meeting on May 29 at 6pm at the Memorial Hall.

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Town council finance and resources committee chairman John Gretton: 'It has been very much stop go and we cannot let it drift any more. We need to do this.'

Michael Fanthorpe said: 'It is a very, very exciting project and we are going to have a Memorial Hall which will be second to none. The town should be very excited. We have got the right man to take us through.'

Linda Monument said the architect was 'on the town council's wavelength.'

'Their approach was enthusiastic but very practical.'

Robin Goreham said he was not opposing the Memorial Hall scheme but asked about the wisdom of 'straddling' a future council with the burden of up to �500,000 of debt.

He said Breckland Council should do more to help with funding.

Mr Gretton said he would be 'very surprised' if the council had to borrow up to �500,000 and said: 'Would we want to pass a decrepit Memorial Hall on?'

Town clerk Tony Needham said: 'The timing of this announcement is very poignant as it is nearly 60 years to the day when the hall was dedicated as a memorial to the people of the town who made the ultimate sacrifice during two world wars. This investment will ensure that this sacrifice continues to be suitably remembered for another generation.

'The hall provided a significant cultural centre for Dereham and the surrounding areas for nearly 100 years after being converted from a carriage factory to a cinema then a swimming pool and dance hall. This new investment will go some way to extending the cultural significance of the hall into the future.'

The hall was originally built in around 1808 as a carriage factory and would have been one of the first industrial buildings built in the town.

On Monday Breckland Council's development control committee approved a block of apartments on part of Fleece Meadow which is behind the hall.

The plans include 14 parking spaces for the apartments and 10 for visitors and staff using the Memorial Hall, as well as provisions to enhance the rest of Fleece Meadow including new planting and increasing wildlife.

Mr Needham said: 'This now gives the council an option of a way to fund part of the refurbishment. The town council will probably consider this at the next finance meeting.'

What do you think about the proposals to update Dereham Memorial Hall? Contact the Times at Bond House, High Street, Dereham, NR19 1DZ or e-mail