ONE OF Christchurch’s prized assets could be in line to have a new look.

Located off Christchurch’s High Street, the Druitt Hall building in Druitt Gardens has been at the epicentre of the town for almost six decades.

However, with almost £250,000 worth or repair works needed, uncertainty looms over the former old people’s welfare centre.

Some councillors have hinted that a new community building in the building’s current location may be more suitable, whilst others have said the structure, if well looked after, could be usable for another three decades.

We take a look into what problems Christchurch Town Council face with Druitt Hall and what options are available to the town council.

Imminent works causes dilemma

In 2017, the Druitt Hall Community Association was granted a 10-year extension to their lease, taking operation of the hall through to 2027.

However, renovation work on the building, including the replacement of its damaged windows and the removal of its asbestos roof which was initially brought up for discussion at the local authority’s community committee in November, has yet to be completed.

This is because, at a projected cost of almost a quarter of a million pounds (£40,000 for the windows and almost £200,000 for the roof), councillors have deliberated as to whether the funding, which would come out of taxpayers’ money, could be put to better use.

Bournemouth Echo: Druitt Hall

However, a chartered building surveyor at Elcock Associates recently stated that the repairs to the building could add another 30 years onto the building’s lifespan.

Cllr Fred Neale, who was chair of the town council’s Community Committee at the time of publication, said: “This is not the first time we have talked about developing the Druitt Hall. When I was the director of CCP, we tried very hard for a whole rebuild but the plans fell through.

“The land had to be returned to the residents. It was all dependent on a land swap but, for some reason, it couldn’t go ahead.

“The windows have been shot to bits for quite some time now. We have tried a couple of times now to get them sorted.

“But these repairs do beg the question, would it be better to see what is available to us before we commit to these repairs.”

Why is the building so important?

Following the loss of Priory Hall after the Christchurch Priory sold the building in 2017, Druitt Hall is now one of two community halls remaining in Christchurch, along with Portfield Community Hall.

As the community facility is located just off High Street and close to two large car parks, Druitt Hall is the most central and most accessible hall.

Also, as a building that is steeped in history, the Druitt Hall has a lot of sentimental values to both Christchurch residents, visitors and councillors.

Bournemouth Echo:

Christchurch’s newly elected mayor Cllr Sue Bungey said: “Personally I would not like to see it disappear a great many volunteer hours has gone into the preservation of this building over the last few years, including many renovations inside the building including, disabled toilets, new floors, new kitchen, a small office, alarm system and much more. 

“I think we would be doing a great disservice to all those Christchurch residents, volunteers and the raising funds to keep this community centre. 

“The building is used every day. We do not have a community centre in Christchurch when most other parts of Christchurch have somewhere to meet.”

What next?

This leaves Christchurch Town Council with two realistic but costly options – approve the current works with the expectation for replacing the building in the next 20 years or commit to a new build in the next two years.

Christchurch mayor Cllr Sue Bungey added: “The Town Clerk has been asked to go away and seek ways of funding a new build in the same position as it is at present and come back to the town council with some options and figures for alternatives for this whole project. 

“But of course, as was pointed out at the meeting, we do not want to left without community hall at all so this whole scheme will need a lot of thought and public consultation which I would hope would include the community. 

“I am hoping at the next meeting we will be able to be in a position to have more information.”

Since the recent Local Government Reorganisation, Christchurch Town Council have used The Old Town Hall, a listed building, to accommodate its present two officers.

Bournemouth Echo: AGEING: Druitt Hall, Christchurch

Until it is sold, and prior to the pandemic, BPC Council allowed the local council the use of the Civic Suite in Civic Buildings Bridge Street. However, councillors have said this space isn't large enough.

Cllr Sue Spittle said: “Several councillors, including myself, would like to see Druitt Hall either rebuilt or improved to provide a meeting place for both Council purposes and voluntary organisations and offices for the Town Council staff as its location is perfect with plenty of car parking nearby.

“There would also be an ideal place to house the wooden boards at present in the Council chamber, depicting the Mayors of the Borough etc.

“As for the future, if the Town Council could be assured of using the Civic Offices facilities for a while, then I am sure it would be happier re-building a new Druitt Hall on the site, as a permanent home for the Council.”

Bournemouth Echo:

Having been asked to look into alternative ways of funding for the new building, including a loan from the Public Works Loan Board, at the council’s Community Committee meeting on April 23, the town clerk is expected to return with his findings later this month.

Cllr Fred Neale said: “The Druitt Hall has been a project of mine for the last 15 years. I am very pro doing something with the Druitt Hall, we have got to do something.

“There will be something happening to the building, whether that is just replacing the windows and roof or something more than that.

“The community chair, whoever that will be, will have to hold another meeting when we have all the figures and are able to make a well-informed decision.

“When we have the information of what the project would cost, there will be some deliberation on it, but we should be able to make a decision soon afterwards.”