THREE different visions for the future of Thornbury’s Armstrong Hall have been laid out to residents.
The Armstrong Hall Trust, which owns the complex in Chapel Street, called a public meeting in December to outline the options which groups of volunteers, from the trust, performing arts and residents groups, have been working on.
The trust is looking for the public to have an input on the plans, before it decides the way forward for the Armstrong Hall and Cossham Hall, which have been closed since the pandemic.
Around 80 people attended the public meeting at Thornbury Baptist Church to hear about the work that has been going on behind the scenes, and how the three different options could work.
The first option, known as Option A, is to rebuild the Armstrong Hall or undertake a major modernisation, leaving Cossham Hall and Thornbury Museum largely unaltered.
John Reynolds, who is leading the group looking at that option, said the cost of the project would be somewhere between £6.1 and £7.3 million for a full rebuild and up to £4.2m for a major refurbishment.
The scheme would include an extension to create a new two-storey entrance foyer and changing rooms, and would take up to 27 months, after planning permission was received.
A full rebuild would create an auditorium with seating for 402 people at Armstrong Hall, with 100 at Cossham Hall, and require some refurbishment of Cossham Hall so it could reopen as soon as possible to provide income towards the work.
Refurbishing Armstrong Hall without the extension would create an auditorium with seating for 342 people.
Both options would include retractable, tiered seating in the Armstrong Hall.
For the project to work, John said: “There must be a substantial commitment and contribution form Thornbury residents, and a willingness to use the facilities.”
Reopen Cossham Hall
The second option, known as Option C, is to reopen the Cossham Hall “as quickly yet as efficiently as possible, with a clear eye on the long-term future”.
Once it was up and running the refurbishment of the Armstrong Hall could be carried out as a longer-term project.
Jill Dimond, who led the group looking at the option, said: “The Cossham Hall building is substantially structurally sound and it is likely it could be reopened relatively quickly.
“The Armstrong Hall will need further structural investigation and will take longer to reopen.”
Like the rebuild option, the plan would involve making more use of the foyer area.
New hall at Turnberrie’s Community Centre
The third option, known as Option T, involves selling off the Armstrong Hall complex and using the money to build a new hall with the same capacity as Armstrong Hall alongside Turnberrie’s Community Centre in Bath Road.
Fiona Deas, who leads the group looking at the option, introduced her speech at the meeting by acknowledging the public feeling for Armstrong Hall by saying: “I know it’s pantomime season, but don’t boo me!”
She said Thornbury currently has “more halls than you could reasonably expect in a town of this size” and reopening the Armstrong Hall complex could affect the viability of some of the others.
What was missing, however, was a multi-use space with an auditorium the size of the Armstrong Hall, and changing facilities.
Fiona said: “There’s enough room on the piece of land by Turnberrie’s to fit a hall.
“Turnberrie’s was built with the future in mind and is already a flexible space.”
A series of issues would need to be settled before this option could go ahead, including how money raised by the sale of the Armstrong Hall, which was donated to the town of Thornbury, would be used on a South Gloucestershire Council-owned site, whether the Armstrong Hall Trust would become a part-owner of the expanded Turnberrie’s centre and how long the lease on the land would last.
One resident at the meeting pointed out that groups which used the Armstrong Hall had raised thousands of pounds themselves to improve its facilities.
New hall must pay for itself
Armstrong Hall Trust member Danny Bonnett told the meeting that before the hall was shut in 2020 it “wasn’t washing its face” and relied on a grant from Thornbury Town Council, which is legally the sole trustee, to keep going.
But that situation cannot continue, whichever option the trust chooses in future.
Trust vice-chair James Murray said: “We’re trying to look at the big picture.
“The Armstrong Hall wasn’t used for enough functions beforehand.
“For this to work, all buildings need to be used at all times of day – it needs to tick a lot of boxes to make it a success.
“It has to be economically self-supporting, draw people into Thornbury and be an accessible space.
“This is a big project to recreate vibrant spaces for Thornbury.”
The trust is now going through the three separate dossiers produced by the three working groups and will then hold a public consultation, expected to start in late March, to collect public input on the project before making a final decision.
Danny said: “The most sustainable option might not look exactly like what we had before – it might not look like Armstrong Hall and Cossham Hall, or Turnberrie’s with an extension.”
More information on the options for the future can be found at the trust’s website, armstronghalltrust.co.uk.
Top picture: Danny Bonnett addresses December’s public meeting