Jim Stebbings at Dereham Memorial Hall. Picture: Ian Burt

Art group proposes community take-over of town venue

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
9.17 AM

Concerns over maximising the potential of the recently refurbished Dereham Memorial Hall have led a local art group to propose a complete change in its management structure.

The hall reopened in December 2011 after an extensive £2.5 million refurbishment by Dereham Town Council and has since been privately hired out to local groups such as Dereham Theatre Company and the Dereham Festival.

But a newly-formed Dereham Arts group feels that general consensus of residents in the town is that the hall is not meeting the expectations of residents and is under-used. While members lay no blame at the door of the town council which it describes as “heroic” in re-modelling the building, they feel that hiring the hall out to third parties does not make the most of the facility.

They are proposing that the running of the hall should be passed to the people of the town through a not-for-profit social enterprise as an economical and community-led way forward.

The group is planning to make a proposal to the town council and is suggesting that the enterprise be run by a governing board and employ a commercial manager to develop a programme of events, shows, concerts, exhibitions and gigs, and run the hall, the cafeteria and the bar with volunteer support. It is likely that the operation would be phased, starting with the café and gallery, and developing into the rest of the building as support and confidence grows.

Two of those involved with the proposal, Jim Stebbings, chairman of Dereham Festival and Tim Cara from Open Cast Community Theatre Company said communally managed centres have become successful in places like Bungay, Diss and Halesworth.

“Dereham is different from each of those towns, but does not have a clear cultural identity,” said Mr Stebbings. “We believe we can make the Memorial Hall into the centre of the town’s artistic and social life. We want local people to enjoy fully what, after all, belongs to us all. We believe that a wide local grouping will achieve a far greater use of Memorial Hall than could happen under the town council.

“We really think that the people of Dereham will find this idea attractive. It is both a wonderful opportunity and a great challenge. We need to get feedback from many individuals and groups around the area, saying whether or not they would support the formation of a community group, and what their ideas are. Also we need to hear from people who would be willing to give up a few hours to help in the centre in different ways.”

The group hopes to have a proposal ready to present to the town council within the next month and would like to hear from residents via email or contact Jim Stebbings on 01362 693277 (email: jimstebbings@btinternet.com) or Tim Cara on 01362 696900 (email: timcara@hotmail.co.uk)