Picture Gallery: Inside Dereham’s new look Memorial Hall

The end is in sight for an ambitious �2.6m project to revive Dereham's main entertainment venue after the unveiling of the building's new facade marked the completion of structural work.

A provisional date of December 4 has been set for the official re-opening of the town's Memorial Hall after more than a year of renovations.

The front of the listed building on Norwich Street has been shrouded in scaffolding for months, but its public face is now visible, with new ground floor windows installed to let light into a redesigned foyer.

Visitors will be welcomed into a double-height atrium with a grand staircase leading up to the balcony.

In the main auditorium, retractable seating will take the audience capacity to 300 during evening performances, while allowing the continued use of the hall for community purposes during the day.

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But the project has not been without its setbacks. Since work began, contractors have found unsupported arches, missing foundations, drainage problems, wet rot and even a death watch beetle infestation.

Other major structural issues included the need to strengthen beams holding up the balcony and the replacement of roof tiles and battens at a cost of �32,000.

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Those unforseen difficulties increased the cost of the refurbishment by 2.8pc and delayed the intended finish date by three months.

But Linda Monument, chairman of Dereham Town Council's markets and buildings committee, said the concerns over structural work could now be replaced by excitement at the prospect of the project's completion.

'We were fortunate that all these problems came one at a time, and not all at once,' she said. 'It was like a game of snakes and ladders rather than a sense of absolute doom – every time we fought off one snake, we found another one. 'But now the structure of the building is complete, it is a wonderful feeling to see it in a state where you can imagine the paint on the walls and the basins in the toilets.

'I think with the windows going in, people will see the front if it and begin to believe it is going to be completed. There were certainly some people who were convinced it would never happen.'

The finished venue will include a new toilet block and a conference room, which will include a digital projector and surround sound system, with enough space for up to 50 people to meet.

An old alleyway has been converted into a glass-roofed bar and gallery, which links through to a second foyer at the rear of the building, with large windows overlooking the neighbouring Fleece Meadow.

All the elements of the new hall will have their own entrances, so could either be used together or independently to encourage community use.

Town councillor Tim Birt said: 'The cost increases have been very modest compared to the work we have done and the problems we have faced.

'We have been working with a very old building and we have had to use old materials like lime mortar. But we have been able to wrap it in insulation and, considering we have got a building that's 200 years old, it now has a very good energy rating.'

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