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Iconic Corn Hall saved from ruin to celebrate first birthday since revamp

Diss Corn Hall. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

Diss Corn Hall. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434

Dedicated campaigners who helped to save their town’s most iconic building from potential ruin are to celebrate the first year since its revamp.

Angela Sykes, Corn Hall director, with Diss town mayor, Mike Bardwell, right, and Graham Minshull, leader of Diss town council, in the main hall in the new-look Corn Hall after its refurbishment. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYAngela Sykes, Corn Hall director, with Diss town mayor, Mike Bardwell, right, and Graham Minshull, leader of Diss town council, in the main hall in the new-look Corn Hall after its refurbishment. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Built by Thomas Lombe Taylor in 1854, Diss Corn Hall functioned as a farmers’ trading market as late as the 1990s and has been used for a variety of purposes during its history, including social activities, concerts and even as a court.

But in recent years the building’s future looked in doubt as it fell into disrepair, with many describing it as a “white elephant”.

Being a Grade II Listed Building meant it could not be torn down, yet even mothballing the site would have cost thousands of pounds with no potential return.

However determined to not to lose an iconic structure from the town, a small band of campaigners set out to save it.

Angela Sykes, Corn Hall director, with Diss town mayor, Mike Bardwell, right, and Graham Minshull, leader of Diss town council, in the main hall in the new-look Corn Hall after its refurbishment. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYAngela Sykes, Corn Hall director, with Diss town mayor, Mike Bardwell, right, and Graham Minshull, leader of Diss town council, in the main hall in the new-look Corn Hall after its refurbishment. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

They decided to invoke the spirit of the Corn Hall’s past as a hub for social events and concerts by making it into an arts venue, fundraising to reopen the site as a theatre in 2010.

But the old and dilapidated state of the building made it clear that the site was still “in such need of huge investment”, said current programme manager Angela Sykes.

She added: “Part of the ceiling was dropping down onto the floor when we started building work.

“We had to put space heaters in to keep people warm.

Diss Corn Hall. Picture: JOAKIM BORENDiss Corn Hall. Picture: JOAKIM BOREN

“It was not sustainable. The building was going to completely fall down around or ears and it almost was doing that.”

To secure the funds necessary, a successful bid was made to the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2014 as part of a wider £1.65m application to boost Diss’ Heritage Triangle area.

That allowed the Corn Hall to be redeveloped with a new cafe and entrance, renovated theatre space and upstairs gallery area - with the new-look building opening in 2017.

It has since then attracted a range of entertainment, from big name celebrities such as Michael Portillio and Shappi Khorsandi to a popular pantomime which sold 3,000 tickets and a host of family activities and workshops.

“It was a huge achievement to get that funding,” Ms Sykes. “I don’t think people realise how big an achievement that was.

“Some people said in the first six to 12 months that it would never work.

“However what the project has done has created something that all the people of Diss can be really proud of.”

The challenge now, she believes, is to attract more young people to ensure there is an audience for the future.

The new Corn Hall’s first birthday party will take place on Saturday, August 11 with a day of family entertainment between 10am and 4pm and a birthday dance from 6.30pm.

For more information, visit www.thecornhall.co.uk

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