The official objects of Wiveliscombe Town Hall Trust are to preserve, restore and maintain the Town Hall for the benefit of the local communities and to allow public use for leisure and recreation that benefits local residents.
For many years the ambition has been for the Town Hall to host a range of performing arts including theatre, cinema, music and dance. Recently the town has lost the use of the hall at the Primary School, thus leaving Cinema Obscura homeless, while the theatre at Kingsmead has been demolished and replaced with a smaller facility. Furthermore there is no heritage venue in the town, other than St Andrews Church, which can be hired for events and performances. The reopened Town Hall can therefore fill a niche in local provision, providing a valuable space purposefully designed and equipped for the performing arts.
The Trust will curate its own programme of events and at other times the Hall will be available for hire for compatible activities. However, we are keen to avoid duplicating, competing with or undermining other spaces that already exist in the town so we will avoid the range of activities usually found at the Community Centre, Silver St Centre etc.
Works to the Building
Since the Trust was formed the expectation had been that the restoration of the Town Hall would take place all at once. However, it proved impossible to raise the necessary funds and little progress was made. In 2021 we adopted a different more agile approach that sought to make incremental changes that would each deliver significant improvements. Following structural, access and fire risk surveys we focused on installing an electricity supply together with fire detection and escape measures. While the Hall would not be heated or have a water supply it would at least be safe for public access.
The electricity was switched on in July 2023 and we start presenting the first performances later in the year. We have been frantically buying seats and also bought a stage from a Taunton primary school.
We are often asked about disability access. Currently the Hall can only be accessed by the stairway adjacent to the library and the fire escape at the rear. We commissioned an access audit which identified a range of measures we would need to take to improve access. For the moment these do not include full physical access but we are investigating ways of providing alternative virtual access to our shows. In the longer term we will install a stair lift and / or full lift.
The Medium Term
Once we have reopened the doors we will move to the next phases of restoring the Town Hall. These will include:
- Restoration of all the windows, some of which will need to be replaced
- Repairs to the ceiling
- Installation of water supply, toilet and sink
- Equipping the Hall with stage lighting, projection and other equipment
- Decoration of the stairs
- Strengthening and sound-proofing the floor
The Longer Term
The Town Hall is a ‘nice’ size but it has little space for a bar, kitchen and other ancillary facilities. The longer term ambition is therefore to extend the Hall to the rear. We would also love to reinstate the portico at the front of the building, an ambition supported by the emerging Town Centre Vision (see wivey.co.uk). All this poses all manner of challenges including getting listed building consent and negotiating all the necessary approvals with the Coop. It will also require a significant fundraising effort.
Community Engagement, Volunteering and Outreach
The Town Hall Trust and the aspiration to bring the Hall back into use has always been a community led project. All the Trustees over the years have been local residents and our aims are firmly rooted in the needs of the community. To be successful in the coming years we will need to maintain a strong ongoing dialogue with the wide community and also support a body of volunteers upon whom the Hall’s success will be dependent.
We also aspire to support and develop new audiences in the local area. So whenever possible we will work with our performers to hold additional performances for and even at local schools, residential homes and non-traditional venues where we can reach people who otherwise may never think of attending an event at the Town Hall.
We want the Town Hall to proceed as a diverse and inclusive organisation that is representative of the population of Wiveliscombe and the 10 Parishes. We want to offer equality of opportunity to our potential audiences and arts organisations.
Wiveliscombe Town Hall Trust is committed to minimising its environmental impact. As we bring the building back into use we will consider how to minimise our energy consumption and ensure that that energy we use comes from renewable sources (our energy supplier is Ecotricity). We will strive to ensure that our purchasing prioritises products with the least environmental impact, buying second hand whenever feasible and always seeking to repair and extend the lifespan of the fixtures, fittings and equipment. We will promote sustainable transport options to our audiences (travel to and from events at the Town Hall will be one of the biggest areas of environmental impact) encouraging walking, cycling and lift sharing whenever possible.