Consultation launches for Ottery’s first museum

The old Town Hall building in Ottery. Ref sho 14-16TI 8476. Picture: Terry Ife

The old Town Hall building in Ottery. Ref sho 14-16TI 8476. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Ottery Heritage Society would like to take on the Old Flexton to create the town’s first heritage centre and museum.

A public consultation is to take place over whether an empty town centre premises can be transformed into a musuem.

Ottery Heritage Society is looking forward to sharing its ideas for the Old Flexton - saying it is ‘high time’ the town had a venue to celebrate its history.

The group had approached Ottery Town Council about taking on the building, but members this week said the public must be asked what it thought.

Mayor Glyn Dobson said that, following a recent debate on social media over what consultation was held into the town’s new library, a discussion into ‘what the people want’ must be had to avoid the council facing more criticism.

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The heritage society has announced it will hold a ‘community-wide’ consultation until April 27 and share the results at the next town council meeting on May 8.

Robert Neal, chairman of the society, said: “We are one of the few towns without a museum and we are one of the most historic towns in Devon. It’s high time that we did have a museum and this is a great opportunity to provide the town with one.”

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If successful in securing the town council-owned building, the society hopes to secure Heritage Lottery Funding to help pay for repairs and to transform the premises into a heritage centre.

Mr Neal added: “It’s an exciting venture and we look forward to sharing it with the public at large.”

Town councillors on Monday agreed to terms that would see the occupant of the Old Flexton lease the building for 20 years at a peppercorn rent and take on the repairs and maintenance of the facility.

Councillor Dobson said: “I do envisage that, if we just sign this head of terms and we hand it over to the heritage society, the council will come in for criticism.

“I don’t know what will be put forward [for the use of the Old Flexton] and I suppose that’s the crux of it. What if it was put forward for something for the hospital, the help scheme, I don’t know, because we haven’t asked the question. I’m not personally against the museum going in there, but what I am saying is the council could be open to criticism. The head of terms is accepted, providing the consultation takes place to actually prove it’s what the people want.”

At the meeting, councillors Geoff Pratt and Roger Giles, who are trustees of the society, declared an interest and left the room.

Councillor Pratt said after the meeting: “The heritage society welcomes any public consultation, but it is disappointing the town council is only now telling us at this stage, rather than earlier. There were be forms sent out to all the various groups - Tar Barrels, many community groups and businesses and we hope to do something with Otter Garden Centres. It is a community-wide business consultation.”

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