Save The Drill Hall!


Martin Read – Reporter

Horsham District Council has unleashed a shock proposal to demolish Horsham’s Drill Hall in Denne Road to make way for a block of affordable flats.

Councillors were briefed on January 15th and on Thursday (30th) their approval will be sought – at an open meeting at Parkside, Chart Way, starting at 6.00pm – to support construction of a replacement community centre at Highwood Village on the outskirts of Horsham, to which the Council is already committed under the Land West of Horsham Masterplan 2008.                                                                                                                                In a straw poll conducted by the District Post the demolition proposal was greeted with disbelief – ranging from: “Its not April 1st is it?” to: “What? You’re joking – I thought the Council are supposed to protect the town’s assets.” Other comments included: “I’ve been to loads of enjoyable events at the Drill Hall – it’s an adaptable building in the centre and easy to get to”, and “The Drill Hall is an impressive landmark building. I don’t want to see it go and replaced by another soul-less box, we’ve got plenty of those already.” Another respondent regretted the gradual, but relentless disappearance of iconic Horsham buildings, mentioning the old, bijou Capitol theatre and adjacent medieval buildings and the ancient former Robert Dyas  premises in the Carfax, adding: “Replacements are so often ugly and out of keeping – we should cherish and preserve our gems – not wantonly destroy them.”                                                                                                                                 Two ‘Save the Drill Hall’ petitions have been launched and are attracting support – has been set up by the Horsham Blueprint Neighbourhood Forum (HBNF) and backed by the Horsham Society – HBNF is the designated business neighbourhood forum for the unparished area of Horsham, including the three neighbourhood councils of Forest, Denne and Trafalgar, representing over 24,000 residents and including central Horsham. Speaking on behalf of the Forum Andrew Cooke said: “The proposal to demolish the Drill Hall contradicts both a key objective and a draft of the Neighbourhood Plan. Residents were very supportive of the need for more community facilities and this is a main element of our vision for the town. That the Council is going to make a decision about such a valuable facility with the minimum of consultation – and informing us only at this late stage in their plans is unbelievable and we invite residents wishing to oppose the demolition to sign the Forum’s petition.”   And, there is also the Liberal Democrat ‘Save the Drill Hall’ petition – – the text saying: “The  community centre at Highwood whilst welcome leaves the town centre without a community facility. It is possible to provide a new community facility in Highwood Village, more affordable homes and continued services at the Drill Hall simultaneously. Not only is {demolition} bad for the town, those making the decision don’t represent the town. The cabinet, of which only one represents a town ward, are making decisions without support or agreement. Of the 16 councillors for the town, the majority oppose this move, as do the three Neighbourhood councils. This is an attack on our community assets, and on our local democracy. The community groups that use the Drill Hall are extremely successful and more should be done to encourage others to use the facility. This can only be a benefit for the Town and its culture.” The petition statement continues:

“We accept that it may need refurbishment, but this would be an investment in a community facility that benefits the entire town. If we carry on like this, we won’t have anything left for future generations. The Drill Hall should not be knocked down. We should preserve our history by investing in our public infrastructure and seek other suitable locations where we can build affordable housing. This petition calls on Horsham District Council to immediately halt all plans to knock down Drill Hall.”                                                                                                                         Former HDC Chairman, Councillor Christian Mitchell (Conservative, Holbrook West) also opposes: “It is inappropriate and insensitive to suggest that providing affordable housing on the Drill Hall site should be welcomed as an alternative to this community space. As a council, we should be building and providing for all the different needs for our town and district. Affordable housing is important, but so too are facilities that help a community come together and build social networks. This proposal has no regard for our rich history and the need for preserving and enhancing this historic and valuable community asset. At the briefing, councillors were told that the Drill Hall needs “£1m+” spent on it {mainly} to increase the building’s “thermal performance.” How desperate to use climate emergency as a reason to flatten our community asset. The report to Cabinet also seeks to argue that the Drill Hall is not used. That is just not true! The Cabinet must reject this proposal and save our Drill Hall for others to continue to use it as a community facility just as it has been for the last 90 years.”                                                                                                                         The versatile Drill Hall was built for the local Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1927 and after the Territorial Army moved out, Horsham District Council became custodians and landlords. The hall has always been used for a wide range of social pursuits – including a huge circus, and, incredibly, 1500 people attended an Empire Day celebration. Photographs show a variety of popular activities – there have been much-enjoyed dances, taking advantage of the sprung wooden floor. The Battle of the Bands attracted a 500 strong audience, with the main hall used for conferences, election hustings, awards ceremonies, church, political and campaign meetings, social dances and competitions, rehearsals, charity and disability events, community shows, concerts, artists’ exhibitions, Guides, Scouts, club functions, and beer festivals. Other ventures at the spacious venue include the Horsham District Jobs and Skills Fair, wellbeing, environmental and safety courses and seminars, wedding, christening, family and retirement parties. Ballroom and Latin classes and dance evenings and club gatherings are regular mainstays, along with jive sessions. The substantial Drill Hall building contains a variety of smaller meeting rooms for office use and a surprisingly varied list of activities, including drama workshops. There are bespoke studios for artists, and for the recording of the local weekly talking newspaper valued by those with sight impairment.

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