Get involved in saving Sidmouth Drill Hall ..... this is a relaunch!
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May Newsletter
Dear Friends,
I apologise for the large gap since the last newsletter. Part of it is due to a major computer problem which took weeks to resolve and part of it is due to there not being much to report until now.

The dates for public consultation on Port Royal are not yet known to me although Jillings Heynes have been talking to leaseholders. There has been an article in the Herald and an EDDC press release on this; both of which are conveniently available in one place on the Futures Forum Blog run by Jeremy Woodward.

The press release appears on the EDDC site but not on Sidmouth Town Council site although the STC are nominally the ‘lead’ on this project.

What the more eagle eyed amongst you may notice is the reference to ‘major leaseholders’, of which the Lifeboat and Sailing Club are only two.

On the map from the Local Plan ED03 ( the area proposed for redevelopment ) covers 1) the Drill Hall, whose freehold belongs to EDDC and has no leaseholder: 2) the car park which belongs to EDDC and has no leaseholder that I am aware of: 3) the Lifeboat Station and 4) the Sailing Club building.
This means that there is no doubt at all that the redevelopment area under consideration is larger than ED03, unless of course their press release is not accurate.

Indeed, Sidmouth Trawlers was included in these talks, which is very odd as they should not be affected because their buildings stand on the ground given to the town to be for the ‘recreation’ of Sidmothians and visitors alike ( in 1896 shopping was not considered a recreational activity!).  I would suspect that the other leaseholder is LED which runs the swimming pool.

As far as my work goes I am continuing with all the things that I do. Trying to get people involved, looking for more information which might sway opinion in favour of retaining the Drill Hall in any Port Royal development, researching Drill Hall history and trying to make it all more widely known. Some parts progress better than others!

I have finally been successful in finding an old photograph showing the interior of the Hall. If it hadn’t been for the recent pictures of the Hall with the boarding removed I might not have spotted it. It is now up on the research website along other new ones of the exterior, all of which I discovered in the British Newspaper Archive. The copyright for all these images is held by the individual newspapers and the British Library.

It was amazing to me to find newspaper photographs from the first decade of the 20th C. It seems that some of the Devon papers were at the forefront of technology at the beginning of last century.

I have also been fighting my way through reams of information about the contribution old and/or historic buildings make to the economy of their area. It would seem that there has been quite a bit of research done on this since 2009 and it has been pulled together in documents by Historic England and The Heritage Lottery Fund.

Their findings strongly suggest that the economy of Sidmouth would benefit more from the Drill Hall being refurbished and used for a particular purpose than if a new building was used for the same purpose. They state that their surveys show that businesses in old buildings see a considerable increase (4.4%) in income over those in new ones. I am not sure I understand why but perhaps they can charge increased fees as their clients are impressed by their surroundings?

The research also shows what the public’s attitude to buildings is ‘ A striking area of consensus in the findings was the value people placed on old versus new buildings. Across all age groups, older buildings were favoured as being “more beautiful” than newer ones. The most common reason people gave was that older buildings conveyed a sense of longevity and grandeur. ‘

Another thing they found was that restoring an old building to use had a surprising large impact on all sorts of indicators of social well-being ‘Similarly, an on-street survey of residents and visitors in areas which have seen significant historic environment led regeneration found that 93% of respondents felt that the project has improved their perceptions of the local area and 91% that it had improved the image of the wider town. 92% of respondents felt that the project had raised pride in the local area and 93% that it had increased their sense of place. The research evidenced that the historic environment has a positive and significant relationship to the sense of place among the adults living there.’ It also had a positive effect on community cohesion.

If we used the Drill Hall for something linked to its original intentions the pull for tourist would be greater than if it was used for an unrelated purpose, and the rewards for the town would consequently be greater.

So if, for an example we had a museum about the Volunteers, with the ability for children to try on uniforms and a (safe) rifle range reinstated, we would have an interactive experience of a type not easily found elsewhere. It would provide wet weather activities, and the research shows that this sort of attraction is very popular. Of every £1 spent on visiting a tourist attraction only 32p is spent at the actual attraction, the other 68p is spent in the surrounding area in shops and restaurants.

So there would be a definite economic advantage to retaining and reusing the Drill Hall, as well as the advantage of retaining part of our history. Drill Halls are rapidly being lost, if we save ours it could end up being unique as a small town example of military history. It already seems to be unique amongst coastal communities with the basement designed for housing fishermen’s boats. Rare and unique historical buildings are attractive to tourists.

The research resulting in the above information was mainly done at large attractions such as the Iron Bridge Museum, but it should be fairly easy for someone in the know to tell if a smaller attraction such as Seaton Jurassic has a similar effect.

By the by, all this makes me wonder again why we don’t tell prospective tourists about all we have to offer. The beach, shops, friendliness and safety of the town, the country side and the nearby attractions are all clearly displayed, but the literary connections, the fact that you can still see houses where authors and people of national importance stayed or lived is not mentioned. When you think how many people visit Beatrix Potter’s house, or those of the Lakeland poets, or Shakespeare’s, there is obviously a huge market for that sort of thing. The books in the Museum will give that information but you almost have to know it already in order to find it. Surely we can do better?

I will contact you again when I learn the date for the public consultation on Port Royal.
Kind regards, Mary

 © 2017 Mary Walden-Till, All rights reserved.

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Historic Sidmouth · The Pines · Belper, Derbyshire DE56 0SB · United Kingdom

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