Fresh start for hall scheme

Town bosses who appeared to scrap the idea of bringing a major performing arts centre to a rural Norfolk market town are hoping for a fresh start for the scheme.

Town bosses who appeared to scrap the idea of bringing a major performing arts centre to a rural Norfolk market town are hoping for a fresh start for the scheme.

Dereham Town Council has been talking about revamping the Memorial Hall in Norwich Street for about 15 years.

And the scheme floundered earlier this year after a project manager appointed to oversee a £6m plan for a state of the art performing arts centre saw his contract not renewed.

But now councillors have agreed £11,500 to be spent on finding out exactly what Dereham needs in terms of a meeting place and performing arts venue and gallery.

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And performances are to be put on to test what people are more likely to want to see at the venue.

A wide-ranging survey of what venues the town has already, what they cost, how big they are, whether they meet demand now and in the future and whether the arts can be developed in the town, is to be carried out from next month.

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Anthony Needham, clerk to the town council, said: “By August we should have a clearer view of what funding is available and what the needs are in Dereham and then we can make a realistic assessment of where we go from there.”

“The key is how much money is needed and how much work is needed. At the moment there is not a lot of money out there.”

When the survey has been collated after August, the council said it would approach architects to draw up plans for the building, which will then be taken to the public to see what people think.

And between September 2008 and December 2009 live performances will be put on at the venue to test the water on what people will actually go and see.

And the council is going to speak to other performing arts venues to get an idea of a range of performances they could put on, from children's shows to comedy and theatre.

Councillor Lynda Monument, who has been working on the scheme, said: “We hope to organise actual performances to test the potential market for performing arts. There will be six taster performances.

“We will get outline designs from three architects and go to the public and ask which one they want.”

Heather Barnard, chairman of Dereham Operatic Society, said: “I think they are being more realistic now.

“It needs a big update and the stage needs looking at. I suggested they put raked seating in which could be pushed back to the wall when it is not being used.

“They have said they are going to do the kitchen short term so it can be used and we have asked if they can do something with the toilets, particularly the mens.”

The council has been asked to say how much has been spent on the various schemes to revamp the hall in the last 15 years.

The Memorial Hall building was constructed in 1809 and became a coachworks, then a picture house in the 1910s and 1920s. In the 1930s it became a swimming pool and then a dance hall.

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