Hall facelift met with disappointment

THE major refurbishment of a public hall in a Suffolk town that took four years and �250,000 has been met with disappointment by some of the groups that use the facility.

THE major refurbishment of a public hall in a Suffolk town that took four years and �250,000 has been met with disappointment by some of the groups that use the facility.

A spokesman for Waveney District Council, which manages Beccles Public Hall, said that work in the early stages of the project, which started in 2003, identified significant structural problems that led to the original estimate more than doubling.

One regular user of the hall, who did not wish to be named, said: 'It's unbelievable. We are disappointed because as users we were involved in the plans and expected great things. It was all going to be so brilliant but it actually didn't come to it.'

She added: 'They have repainted the hall but there's a joke about the colour, it must have been what was left - it's pretty hideous but never mind, it's better than it was.'

A council spokesman said the hall, which was built 300 years ago and restored in 1903, had been in a state of disrepair and the main works would have been completed within two years had the structural problems not arisen.

The project, which attracted external funding as well as council money, included upgrading the kitchen, dressing rooms and toilets, as well as repairs to the drainage, foundations and staircase. The spokesman said the council did not have the money to remove the support props to the balcony that had reduced the space in the hallway and had attracted some criticism from users.

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Beccles town councillor Michael Doherty said he had been approached by people raising questions about value for money after the town council put �50,000 into the project.

But the chairman of Waveney Light Opera Group, Sarah Cook, said its members, who rely on the venue, welcomed the changes.

'We have nothing but praise for the plan,' she said. 'You cannot escape the fact that the place is old, but we are very grateful Waveney have been seen to invest in the place. It would have been very easy to abandon the place and say it was a bit of a white elephant.'

John Crowfoot, from Beccles Choral Society, said the hall was the only place in town big enough for rehearsals, adding: 'I would say the society are happy with it. There are probably more things they can do but it looks far more presentable.'

Now the hall's manager, Gary Hines, is urging people to make use of the facility.

'It was in a pretty dire state before but we've got a good all-round venue for the town now,' said Mr Hines. 'It's the premier entertainment venue in the town but it's underused at the moment, especially on weekdays during the day. It's seen as just a community hall, but it offers so much more than that.'

He added: 'It now offers greater comfort and the overall appeal has now been improved. The charm's been put back.'

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