EVESHAM’S mothballed public hall could be handed a new lease of life as an arts and heritage centre under a £3.9million plan being considered by Wychavon District Council.
The iconic landmark in the heart of the town opened in 1904 and was closed back in 2009 as part of Wychavon’s cost saving drive at the height of the credit crunch, leaving the building empty and unused ever since.
Campaigners mounted a bid to reopen the hall in 2016 and claimed it had been ‘left to rot’ by the then council leadership.
But more than a decade on, council chiefs have given the thumbs up to proposals from Chase Commercial Limited – who own the freehold to the Hall and Riverside Shopping Centre – to breathe new life into the venue.
Under the proposals, Wychavon would fund the redevelopment of the hall, as well as the ground floor and basement area.
The hall, and part of the ground floor, will be fully refurbished and remodelled as the new home for Evesham Arts Association, whose members are currently seeking to expand their role in the community.
As well as providing a home for an extensive arts programme, there would also be a café, rooms for hire for weddings and other functions.
The remaining part of the ground floor and basement area will become the ‘Story of Evesham’ – a unique multi-sensory virtual reality visitor attraction based on the town’s heritage.
The focus would be on the history of Evesham Abbey, Simon de Montfort and the Battle of Evesham to complement the town’s existing heritage tourism offer.
Arts chiefs would pay a rent to the council in return for the investment and while at the early stages, executive board members voted on Wednesday (November 18) to work with the various bodies to finalise the plan.
Coun Martin King, board member for Town Centres and Council Efficiency, said: “This is a very exciting proposal which will bring a much-loved community venue back into use in a sustainable way, generate footfall and support the wider transformation of the town centre.
Julian Meredith, managing director of Chase Commercial Ltd, said: “A huge amount of time and effort from all parties has been invested into creating this exciting and visionary concept.
“We are very excited at the prospect of not only creating a focal point Evesham can be proud of but also creating a catalyst for the further regeneration of the Riverside Shopping Centre and Evesham as a town.”
Chris Bloomfield, chairman of Evesham Arts Association (EAA), added: “On numerous occasions I have heard it stated the Public Hall should be run by the community for the community.
“As a long-established community organisation, the EAA are thrilled to have the opportunity to make this a reality.”
Mick Hurst, director of The Story of Evesham, said: “The Story of Evesham has many facets, that individually would attract visitors from all over the world, including The Battle of Evesham, one of the most important conflicts in political history, the remains of a massive abbey and of course a vision of the Virgin Mary.
“The town quite rightly should be on the Worcestershire, Stratford upon Avon – Cotswolds’ visitor itinerary.
“Telling this story to a modern audience, who consume information digitally is now possible, by using cutting-edge film-quality CGI which will be presented in a multi-sensory Virtual Reality environment.
“Our aim over time is to increase tourism footfall, enhancing the retail and accommodation offer around Evesham and in-turn helping to regenerate the town centre.”