Inspiring residents will secure Drill Hall future

Drill Hall campaigners want to give an inspiring vision to capture the imaginations of Sidmouth residents and get their backing.

An open meeting on Tuesday brought together local activists with representatives of FolkWeek and cycling charity Sustrans.

Campaign leader Matt Booth led discussions on how to move forward after the building’s stay of demolition, including reaching a purported £440,000 asking price.

“We have stuck our hands up and we are seeing it through,” said Matt.

“There’s no personal interest – we’re not trying to make money out of it.”

He said the site could make a developer ‘five or 10 million’ pounds, but the cost to the town would be greater than that.

The Drill Hall advocate added that there may be some debate over who owns it, or what the draft Local Plan has in store for Port Royal, but that should not make them falter.

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Louise Cole said that giving an inspiring vision of what is possible would gain them the backing of the town.

“We have to engage different age ranges – the space has to be flexible and changeable,” she said.

Members agreed that Sidmothian architect Alex Vick’s blueprints for the Drill Hall had helped change the tide of opinion in their favour, and meant East Devon District Council (EDDC) withdrew the application for its demolition.

Louise suggested that the building’s unique location could make it the focal point of the sea, the River Sid, the town’s arboretum trail, and a potential cycle link from Feniton to Sidmouth.

The latter idea was backed by Michael Brittain, of Sustrans, and the Drill Hall could benefit from its bid for cash from the Coastal Communities Fund.

He said that Sidmouth should express an interest in getting funding to ensure that the deadline is not missed.

“If we don’t express an interest we could get nothing again,” said Michael.

“We keep seeing other towns getting money while we get nothing.”

Businessman Richard Eley said the asking price was likely to be £440,000, because that was the price that was previously paid for it, and the people of Sidmouth would get the first chance to buy it, ahead of any developers.

Matt is looking at getting funding from the People’s Lottery and a grant from Europe.

EDDC said last month that it would review the situation in the autumn and decide whether the Drill Hall would be put on the open market.

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