Pennoyer Centre at Pulham St Mary scoops regional building ‘Oscar’

The transformation of a derelict school building into a thriving village centre in south Norfolk has scooped a top prize in the region's building 'Oscars'.

The Pennoyer Centre, in Pulham St Mary, which opened to the public last year, was crowned the winner of the community benefit award at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) East of England awards.

The �1.6m restoration project involved turning a run down former Victorian primary school and its adjoining medieval guild chapel into a multi-purpose building with community caf�, meeting spaces, internet caf� and IT suite.

The building, which was designed by Wymondham-based architects, Lucas Hickman Smith, beat competition from across six counties to win the RICS award and was also shortlisted in the conservation category.

Architect Terry Hickman Smith, who was charged with turning the listed building into a centre for the 21st century, said: 'There were many hurdles to overcome during the development of the centre, although having the involvement of the village and the local community certainly helped us to get the award which is fantastic recognition for the project.'

The building was opened last August and is run by a team of five part-time staff and 50 volunteers.

Shelia King, chairman of the Pennoyer Centre, said she was 'absolutely delighted' that the building had been recognised for its community benefit.

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'We think that it has had a fantastic conversion and it is wonderful that someone else thinks so as well. To get a 21st century use out of a 15th century building with the most amazing constraints is quite an achievement.'

'We have the sliding doors that separate the different rooms and they have been hugely successful and we had the Pulham village orchestra brass section practising in one room with people having a business meeting in another room and they did not realise they were there,' she said.

Stephen Boniface, lead judge for the RICS East of England awards, said the Pennoyer Centre won because of the 'significant' community benefits it delivers and will go into the national finals in October.

The University of East Anglia also received highly commended awards in the building conservation and sustainability categories for its refurbishment of the library's level zero and a new 360-seat lecture theatre.

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