Historic town hall benefits from £76,000 make-over
- Credit: IAN BURT
Downham Market's historic town hall has been given a long-awaited £76,000 make-over to help preserve the mid-Victorian era building for the 21st century.
The iconic 150-year-old structure, which has doors opening onto the Town Square, was built as a memento of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887 - but had not undergone a major renovation since the 1970s.
So when Downham Market Town Council took control of the building in 2008, it wanted to make the Grade II Listed Building fit for purpose while retaining its unique sense of history and character.
The most recent improvements, which were unveiled by Mayor David Sharman at a formal opening ceremony, included a much-needed lift so that elderly and disabled people can attend events upstairs.
This was after an art display held upstairs at the Priory Road venue last year highlighted how many people simply could not physically access it.
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'A number of people wanted to go to the art display but couldn't get to the top,' Mr Sharman said. 'As the use of the Town Hall was effectively being limited to many people, we started to look at installing a lift.'
The original brief was also to install new disabled toilets and renovate the cloakroom.
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However, the work actually ended up going much further.
The ancient staircase has also been repainted, with new wallpaper laid, as has the foyer - with a new alarm system put in to protect the building now it has had so many improvements.
Town councillor Robin Pegg, who is also chairman of the Town Hall Committee, said: 'It wasn't on the original project plan but we wanted to do the whole lot.'
It is hoped that the upstairs function room - formerly known as the Assembly Room - will be put in along with new lighting and curtains on the stage in the main hall but that will take time, as further funding is needed.
The town hall benefited from a £38,000 Norfolk County Council grant to help pay for the work, with the rest coming from the town council's reserves.
Mr Pegg said the improvements had been worth it, adding: 'It gives more people more of a chance to use it. Instead of just having one hall, people are now able to use three rooms.'
That would help boost income for the town hall, he added, as it would be able to take more bookings for events such as conferences.
Prior to the work, Mr Pegg revealed: 'Access to the Town Hall has been one of the biggest problems. There was a stair-lift put in a long time ago but it doesn't give full access to everyone.
'Downham Market, like many places, has an ageing population and we do get a lot of older people using it for different things. There are a lot of reasons why we need to do it.'
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