It’s been 10 years of hard work – but Diss now has an arts venue which delivers a ‘wow’ factor.
The ribbon on the famous Corn Hall, which has been subject to a £1.8m refurbishment and extension, was cut earlier today by town mayor Mike Bardwell and Scole’s Duncan Slater, the first double-leg amputee to ski to the South Pole and complete the Marathon des Sales (MDS), in front of a large crowd.
Built in 1854, the Corn Hall was an impressive and state-of-the-art hall for the trading of corn, and a hub of activity.
After 162 years, the building, run since 2010 by The Diss Corn Hall Trust as an arts venue, was in need of investment to save it from serious water damage.
The main auditorium features big LED ceiling lights, mimicking natural light, under floor heating and improved acoustics.
It can seat 300 – and, with the press of a button on a remote control, these can be retracted to make more floor space.
I knew it would have a wow factor and people are just delighted with how it has turned outAngela Sykes, director, Diss Corn Hall
The new Corn Hall will have a cafe open daily, Fredericks at the Corn Hall, a new bar run by Grain Brewery, public toilets, and will incorporate the town’s tourist information centre.
The building also features a timeline, interactive boards and information on the history of the town throughout.
Angela Sykes, director of the Corn Hall, said: “I am elated and just loving the reaction from the people here who have been coming in.
“I knew it would have a wow factor and people are just delighted with how it has turned out.
“I think the thing which I am particularly pleased about, which may feel small but really isn’t, is that the acoustics.
“We had a jazz performance here on Thursday, some very good musicians, and they said the acoustics were, quote, ‘perfect’. Everyone who was there said the acoustics were brilliant, too, which is something we have had problems with at the Corn Hall in the past.
“We knew the rest of it was great but this is just the icing on the cake.
“The thing that is so lovely is that we have got people from all around Diss, and some people who possibly have not been in the building for years here at the opening.”
Mr Slater, who thanked the community for their support in his fundraising challenges, said it was a “shock” to be asked to officially open the refurbished building.
“I cam back from the MDS and was asked if there was any chance I could open it and it is a real privilege.
“It is an amazing building. I did not know so much was going on here, and so much going on in the future, too.
“I think more people will use it than perhaps they think. I think there will be a huge footfall now.”
Diss Town Council Leader Graham Minshull admitted he was “blown away” by the final result.
“It is 10 years of hard work by Diss Town Council and the Corn Hall Trust – considering that 10 years ago, we were going to mothball the building.
“Glyn Walden come to us and said he had an idea, he was going to form a trust and turn the Corn Hall into an arts centre.
“It is amazing what everyone has done.
“We have put in about £300,000 in but over the last 10 years we have saved about £200,000, and going forward this building will save us money.”
Diss Town Mayor Mike Bardwel paid tribute to all those who had made the renovation possible.
“Once people come in and have a look, they will realise what a fantastic place it is,” he said. “They should be really proud with what Diss has now got.”
And Sheila Moss King, programme manager for the Diss Heritage Triangle and Diss Corn Hall Project, said she was “relieved” and “exhausted” at the completion of this phase of the rejeneration.
“I think the achievement for Diss is just amazing,” she said.
“We are a small town and community and we have delivered something amazing.
“The reaction of public, who are in here in considerable numbers, has just been wonderful. We have had a very warm reception and people are just amazed at what has been delivered.”
It represents the first phase of the Heritage Lottery funded £3.1m Heritage Triangle regeneration project.
Over the next few months, the remodelling of the streetscape, a new community garden, and a boardwalk across the Mere, will be completed.
The project has been made possible by a grant of £1.87 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund, £880,000 from Diss Town Council, South Norfolk Council and Norfolk County Council, and a contribution of £125k by local residents and businesses along with further grants from other national and local funders.