Revamp reveals hidden depths at Dereham's memorial hall
Victoria LeggettA major revamp of an historic Dereham arts venue is under way and on Tuesday councillors donned hard hats and steel toecap boots to see their long-held vision at last becoming a reality.Victoria Leggett
A major revamp of an historic Dereham arts venue is under way and on Tuesday councillors donned hard hats and steel toecap boots to see their long-held vision at last becoming a reality.
Builders are one month into the 55 week, �2.6m, renovation of the town's memorial hall which will see the Norwich Street site transformed.
As members of the town council were taken on a tour there was already plenty of progress to see.
A former bar and storage area has been demolished to make way for new buildings which will include a small function room, dressing rooms, toilets and a curved corridor to allow visitors to make their way around the centre with ease.
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In the main auditorium, the floor has been temporarily taken up to reveal a former swimming pool -complete with depth measurements - which has been hidden away since the second world war.
Councillor Ann Bowyer said: 'This is the really exciting bit. We've never seen this although we've heard about it. You can now understand why the floor used to bounce.'
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The auditorium will be completely renovated with new flooring, lighting and retractable tiered seating.
The building will have a large foyer while a connecting alleyway will become a glass-roofed art gallery.
Town clerk Tony Needham said, when finished, the centre would be a live entertainment venue with the 'wow factor' although work was currently still in the demolition phase. He said: 'It's quite an important part of the project. Now we know what's under the ground, we know what we are dealing with.'
Some unexpected obstacles have been discovered, including two structural columns in the auditorium which are holding up the balcony.
But while some finds have created extra work for the builders and architect, others bring welcome additions to the original plans.
That includes two decorative arches found either side of the stage, thought to be left over from when the Grade II listed building was a factory.
Architect Jeremy Stacey said they, along with a number of other historic features, would remain uncovered as a reminder of the hall's past.
He said: 'The building is going to be repaired so that the memory of the historic fabric is retained. You will be able to tell what is new, what has been repaired and what is old.'
Additions to the arts venue will bring it into the 21st century with gas-powered heat pumps, solar panels, a sedum roof and the use of stored rain water to flush the toilets.
Councillor Linda Monument said, after nearly a decade of talking about the improvements, she was delighted to see it coming together at last.
She said: 'This is the culmination of years or planning, dreaming, scheming, saving and consulting.'
The majority of the funding for the project will come from a �1.6m loan from the Department for Communities and Local Government and a �250,000 grant from Breckland Council.