The Forum at Blandford Logo The Corn Exchange

Friends of the Forum – September 2017 Press Release

Following on from the shock of Esme Butler’s death in May, the Executive Committee took time to adjust to the loss of such an inspirational and hardworking colleague.

It was with considerable surprise that we read the headline in this month’s Forum Focus Magazine and learnt of the Town Council’s decision to drop the Heritage Lottery Bid.

Over the past 2 years a good relationship has been developed with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) who have been advising on the fine tuning of the bid to increase its chances of success. The HLF would have funded the bulk of the Corn Exchange Regeneration and supported it for 5 years following its regeneration. It seems a shame that 17 years of work, headed by Cllr Esme Butler, Williams Lester Architects, Peter Robb Associates, QS and all the other professionals and volunteers has been wiped out in a single vote. It is deeply disappointing that no one on the Town Council was able to step into Esme’s shoes.

The Corn Exchange Regeneration Project aimed to restore something special, together with providing an innovative community venue fit for the 21st century. We were tapping into the rich heritage of Blandford and its surrounding area.

Sadly, we feel that the ‘patch it and repair’ approach now being taken by Blandford Town Council is unsustainable, and will not create a venue capable of meeting the needs of the town.

Nor do we feel the Friends Committee enjoys the confidence of the council, given that the council did not feel it appropriate to inform the group of its decision which was taken in a closed session.

In light of the Council’s decision, the current committee of Friends Group volunteers will be standing down with immediate effect.

The Friends group was asked to raise funds for the Forum and raise awareness of what the restoration would give back to Blandford. This was required to complete the heritage bid and to reach into the community not just for money but for support as well.

We found support in abundance, and on our journey baked and sold a mountain of cakes and scones, a river of tea and coffee, and hosted numerous events. Every School Assembly, Radio Broadcast and speech given was well received, as we described how Blandford’s rich heritage would be further enhanced with an up to date Community Hub.

We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone who made such generous donations of their time, their beautiful gardens, their remarkable interviewing skills, their premises, and their food and wine.

Thank you to our members who supported the scheme.

We raised in excess of £7000 and would like to donate these funds towards the installation of the lift. This will improve access to the upper floors and increase the lettable space for events in the building. The Georgian Chambers upstairs (the oldest and most beautiful element of the Corn Exchange), are currently underused because access is so difficult.

Helen Cooper

Chair, Friends of the Forum


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