Memorial Hall to get $4m makeover

Bellingen Memorial Hall turns 90 next year and the grand old dame is receiving a $4 million birthday present.

Months of work on the Regional Cultural Fund grant application and much consultation with the big festivals and community groups who use the hall preceded today’s announcement of the makeover that’s in store for Bellingen’s premiere venue for arts and culture.

A new two-storey wing will be constructed at the rear of the existing building, with flexible spaces that can accommodate intimate performances or film screenings (with retractable seating for 40), a Green Room, an exhibition or function area, kitchen, supper room, two change rooms, an outdoor upper deck, stairs to the main hall and a lift that will connect to a revamped car park.

The existing hall will have its toilets, fittings and finishes updated, new raked seating will increase capacity from 160 to 210 and trolley storage will be built under the stage to improve access to instruments and equipment.

There’s also solar panels, a hearing loop, foyer upgrades and improved lighting and flooring to be installed.

Two other successful grant applications previously announced will attend to the structural integrity, interior and exterior painting ($335,000) and refurbishment of the upstairs space ($92,000), including the replacement of the soldier’s window.

The latest funding, consisting of $3.3 million from the state government and a $650,000 contribution from Bellingen Shire Council, also covers stage one of a multi-storey car park at the rear of the hall.

Oxley MP Melinda Pavey said the Bellingen Memorial Hall was a major community asset and the funding would bring it into the 21st century.

“This announcement of the renovation consistent with the heritage status of the building represents an enormous investment, not just into the hall, but for all the locals and tourists who have been part of this fantastic cultural place,” she said.

Dean Besley, who ‘project managed’ the grant application, said pulling it together involved 46 individuals from multiple community groups.

“This is indisputably a community project,” he said. “When this grant application opportunity came up, we were all excited about the idea of not just fixing it up, but rather transforming our hall into a cultural centre for Bello, the hub of creativity and arts. This was our overarching dream.”

Council’s general manager Liz Jeremy said local architect Steve Gorrell developed the concepts submitted with the grant application.

“He knows and loves it,” she said. “On a project like this, it’s not just head, it’s heart.”

Luke Rhodes from the hall’s management committee expects the new spaces will encourage more community involvement and the improved facilities will attract more touring companies.

 “I think local theatre, drama and dance groups will use it more. And professional touring companies. They need decent backstage space – they’ll find this more attractive.”

Mayor Dominic King said that when the Memorial Hall was built almost 100 years ago it represented the very fabric of the community.

“It was the ‘glue’ that held the town together,” he said. “Our hope is that with this restoration and redevelopment, the Bellingen Memorial Hall will once again serve as a focal point of our town.”