A ‘challenging but most rewarding’ project

By Phil Stoneham   |   Reporter   |
Friday 6th May 2022 11:00 am
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The Tavistock Guildhall heritage centre is officially opened. Pictured are some of the people behind the project. (TINDLE )

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AN architect has revealed how far Tavistock’s iconic Guildhall had started to distintegrate before it was rescued and turned into into a major tourist attraction.

Jackie Gillespie, the lead architect on the scheme, told the centre’s official opening that Grade II listed building had rainwater coming in through the roof and plaster on the building’s walls was ‘failing’.

Ms Gillespie said the team working on the building were continuingly finding new problems requiring further funding. That included the discovery of a medieval fireplace while they were trying to link two rooms via a new doorway.

She said following the withdrawal of the courts service from the Guildhall, followed by the police from their station in the building, it could have been used for a number of purposes.

Ms Gillespie said new uses had been thought up for the Guildhall, including a nightclub, a restaurant and residential.

The National Trust had also shown interest in putting in accomodation and using the building as a centre for walkers, but had not gone ahead with that idea.

She said although some of the ideas would be ‘very nice’, it was not the right sort of use for a building like the Guildhall in a town like Tavistock.

But she said everyone was excited about the project once the town council had bought it off the Devon Heritage Buildings Trust and decided to use it for a heritage centre. But as the project got underway, work on it was halted by the outbreak of the Covid-19. She said: ‘Everyone was really excited about the project, but we had no idea what was around the corner with covid. It’s been a challenging, but a most rewarding project.’

The £1.8 million project received cash funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, despite supporters being turned down at the first time of asking.

The second successful bid saw West Devon Borough Council afterwards chipping in with a grant to provide interpretation kit for the project, which interactively tells the story of the town’s involvement in the mining boom of the 19th century.

The project, the gateway to the Cornwall and West Devon World Heritage Site — which puts it on a par with the Taj Mahal in India — is being run by the Tavistock Heritage Trust in partnership with the town council.

‘It was hailed as one of the key pieces in the bid to help the area recover from the economic affects of the Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent lockdown.

Trust chair Geri Parlby, who already revealed the centre has attracted around 13,000 visitors since it had a ‘low-key’ opening in December, said it had exceeded expectations.

Despite the difficulties in getting the project realised, she added: ‘There’s no doubt in my mind it’s been worth every step of the way.’

Dr Parlby paid tribute to everyone who had made it possible, including the volunteers who currently help run the centre. She said: ‘It’s the volunteers who have made it a success story — they are the lifeblood of this project.’

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