The first phase of Ashbourne Town Hall's renovation is now complete and bosses are calling on the town to make good use of it. Gareth Butterfield went for a look round.
A LONG and expensive publicly-funded project has finally come to fruition and a building which should be at the heart of any market town is ready for the people of Ashbourne to make the most of.
About £70,000 has been spent on adapting parts of the 19th Century former market hall, the home of Ashbourne Town Council, into a space for the public and a base for the town's tourist information centre.
The finishing touches were put to the first stage of the work last week. A second phase, upstairs, will follow in the next financial year.
Phase one saw the main hall transformed to enable disabled access, the addition of the visitor information centre, in Town Hall Yard, and improvements to the heating and toilets.
Events co-ordinator Tim Baker, who is tasked with ensuring the building's booking diary is kept full, says the improvements have given the town a building to be proud of.
He said: "Until I was employed as events co-ordinator, I didn't know the town hall could be so useful to the public.
"Since I've started here I've become very aware that it really is a public building and not just for the town council. I'd love to see people realise what a lovely little gem it is.
"I don't want this place to be lost to Ashbourne or under-used. I want local people to bring back the buzz that there used to be in the town hall in the past.
"We've been lacking a central place but now we've had a big renovation project, it's a great facility and something the people of Ashbourne can really make use of.
"It's a gem in the heart of our community and I want to put the 'town' back in to the town hall."
The hall is used every day by groups including sports clubs and a regular craft fair is held in the main room.
Despite the town's new library in Compton offering a new venue for civil wedding ceremonies, the hall is still a popular choice for couples.
Ashbourne Beer Festival organisers have chosen to make the town hall the festival's home for the second time in succession in the autumn and the Ashbourne Neighbourhood Plan steering group is among other regular users.
Architect Darren Archer, from Ashbourne's Channel Design, was tasked with overseeing the makeover.
He said: "What made it interesting was working on a building that is currently under-used and trying to make it as useable as possible for the people of Ashbourne.
"We're very pleased with the way it's turned out and the town council seems happy with it. We're now very keen to get people in and using it."
A major catalyst for the renovation was the council's decision to take over the running of the town's tourist information service, which had been run by Derbyshire Dales District Council from an office in the Market Place and was in danger of closing.
Despite the service now being tucked away up an alley, the town council's clerk, Carole Dean, says the project has been a success.
She said: "I think the general feel is that the footfall has not reduced into the visitor information centre.
"People are still finding us and it always seems pretty busy in there. The really important thing is that we've still got the service in a tourist town."
The town council was able to re-employ the two main staff from the earlier tourist information centre, Carol Akers and Joan Passant. As well as informing visitors about events and attractions, the centre stocks kitchen caddy liners for district council recycling schemes, as well as tickets for attractions including Alton Towers.
To find out more about using the town hall as a venue, or the services offered at the visitor information centre, call 01335 342291.