£500k plan to make Chippenham's Neeld Hall more viable
Large scale improvements, costing up to £500,000, are in the pipeline for the Neeld Hall in Chippenham.
The project will extend the hall with a separate bar room, bring in tiered seating and change the layout, including moving the entrance.
If all goes as planned, the work could be finished by autumn next year.
David Powell, the leader of Chippenham Town Council, said being able to enter the hall from the High Street side would make the venue easier to market.
“The main problem is its accessibility,” he said. “People don’t know where it is; it’s hidden away down the side.
“This is a really exciting development for the town. The Neeld Hall is not really fit for purpose. For a growing town, it isn’t really a facility we can feel inordinately proud of.
“It is going to make it a much more attractive facility in the centre. We want it to be something professional theatre companies consider coming to.”
He said the council had considered removing the stage, but that had been rejected after a public consultation showed most people did not want to lose it.
Tiered seating will give a better view of the stage and will be retractable at the push of a button, meaning the hall can remain a multi-use facility.
Coun Powell said: “That’s important, because it’s the only large town centre community space.
“All the things that go on will still be able to, only it will be better.”
The council, which leases the hall from Wiltshire Council, has already bought an empty shop unit next door, the former Baby Boots behind the travel shop.
It was secured in November, for about £40,000, and the plan is to knock through the wall and have the new room as a bar and social area, to free up hall space.
Adrian Jones, head of service delivery at the town council, said work should begin before April 2015, be finished within four to six months and cost £450,000 to £500,000.
Any changes will require listed building consent.
The Neeld Hall was built as a covered market and during the First World War was used as a hospital. It was named after the MP, Joseph Neeld.
The council has expressed an interest in grant assistance of £15,000 from Community First.
A new Chippenham Community Campus, likely to be at Wiltshire Council’s Monkton Park offices, includes plans for arts facilities but Coun Powell said it would complement, not duplicate the Neeld Hall.
“The community campus would be geared towards smaller, more intimate performances than the 300-seater Neeld Hall, more like the Pound Arts Centre in Corsham,” he said.