Thumbs up for Royal British Legion’s bid to take over running of Drill Hall
Horsham’s Royal British Legion branch faces one more formality before it takes over the Drill Hall, bringing an end to 18 months of calls to save the building.
At a meeting of the cabinet on Thursday (October 7), members agreed recommendations that the building, in Denne Road, should be leased to the RBL at a peppercorn rent for up to 30 years.
Now all that’s needed is a final thumbs-up from the full council, which is due to meet on Wednesday (October 13).
Suggestions in early 2020 that the hall should make way for flats were met with a swell of public opposition.
Thousands of people signed petitions to save it and the council received three expressions of interest from outside bodies who were interested in running the place.
Only the Royal British Legion’s interest was fully developed and the keys to the 94-year-old building should be theirs from April 1, 2022.
As well as providing a home for the RBL, the lease will require the hall to continue to be available for community activities and events.
They will also have to improve the fabric of the building to make it more energy efficient.
The council became the target of some anger and accusations when the future of the hall was still up in the air, and members were keen to point out that the redevelopment idea had never been a ‘done deal’.
Cabinet member Philip Circus (Con, West Chiltington, Thakeham & Ashington) said: “I think what this shows is we have been completely genuine in the consultation with interested parties that has taken place.
“I know there are cynical people who think that when we say that we don’t actually mean it – a number of people said the decision had already been made and that this was just a fig leaf.
“Well, no it wasn’t. And the fact that we’ve got this proposal on the table demonstrates that it was a genuine consultation – and I’m very pleased that the building will be retained.”
Christian Mitchell (Con, Holbrook West) said: “It’s going to open up lots of opportunities that I think this council wouldn’t have been able to do in terms of funding grants, Lottery grants, things to do with financing and VAT and I think it will work out splendidly.
“It’s going to be a win-win for Horsham district and the community and Royal British Legion.”
While equally pleased with the way things have worked out, Peter Burgess, the council’s Armed Forces Champion, felt more needed to be done when it came to the district’s veterans.
He said: “From the veterans’ point of view, we’re not doing very well.
“[The Royal Air Forces Association], which had its own rented building, has folded completely. The Army in Crawley are quite good but there’s nothing in Horsham.
“And all that is left is the Royal Naval Association which met for the first time last week because it’s got nowhere to go – it’s out in Warnham right now.
“The big thing about this is, besides being a focal point for the whole community, from an Armed Forces point of view they will have a meeting place.”
Joking about the Drill Hall having a bar – ‘becasue the Armed Forces can’t exist without a bar’ – he added: “It will mean that now we can go ahead and start to rebuild the veteran communities we had in the past, which are now gone.”
Looking back at the public reaction to the fate of the Drill Hall, Ruth Fletcher (Lib Dem, Denne) said: “It really brings home to us the importance of listening to our residents and communicating first.
“It would have been a tragedy to have lost [the hall] and I hope we are going to learn the lessons about communicating with our residents and our local members at the earliest stages of thinking through on potential future schemes.”