Contractors have started work on the £2 million Newton’s Place museum and community space project in Newton Abbot.
The landmark moment came on Monday when members of the Town Council, ably assisted by mascot Newton, handed over the keys of the former St Leonard’s Church to staff from westcountry building firm Pollard.
It marks a pivotal moment in the project that has taken two years of behind the scenes activity to get to this stage and successfully attracted grants worth more than £1.2 million including £950,000 of National Lottery players’ cash via the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Derelict land next to the building has been converted into a works compound while inside old plasterboard and decayed flooring is being stripped out. Scaffolding should be seen going up before Christmas with the construction and restoration set to continue into summer 2019.
Project Champion Cllr Mike Ryan said: "It’s a great day, fantastic times. We’ve been waiting for this two years now so the sooner the better. We look forward to next August when it’s complete and we can start moving with all the museum equipment. Off we go!"
Museum curator Felicity Cole was present for the key handover. "It’s just the most amazing opportunity and having so much support from the HLF and everyone is wonderful," she said. "Great times for Newton Abbot ahead I think."
Overseeing the construction work is Pollard’s Kevin Jobe who said: "We’re very pleased to be actually on site now. We’ve got the demolition crew in starting the ‘soft strip’, that’s really anything which doesn’t require mechanical tools to remove, and as soon as we’ve got some drainage works completed we’ll be in a position where we can get the scaffold up. Clearly this is a listed building so we’ll be working to a proper system to make sure we don’t damage the fabric of the building or anything that’s precious due to time and age. Improvements will include underfloor heating and overall the building will be much more energy-efficient as at the moment it leaks heat like a sieve."
Newton’s Place is due to open winter 2019/2020 and is being created by the Town Council in response to public calls for improved community facilities.