Civic leaders back revamp of landmark Chesterfield town centre building but criticise museum plans
Chesterfield civic leaders have welcomed proposals to remodel a landmark town centre building despite concerns about plans for the interior.
Chesterfield Borough Council is bidding for almost £20million of Government funding to transform Stephenson Memorial Hall – which houses the Pomegranate Theatre and Chesterfield Museum.
Under the plans, the refurbished hall would bring together under one roof an extended theatre and revamped museum, alongside new gallery space, a café bar, education and community facilities.
Chesterfield and District Civic Society has commented as part of the planning process, saying ‘in general we support the idea of remodelling the building’ despite being ‘very unhappy indeed about the intended changes to the museum displays’.
"Because it has been open to the public for a variety of purposes ever since it was built, the hall is familiar to virtually all residents of Chesterfield and has fond memories for many,” the society’s statement says.
Despite concerns about access, the society welcomed much of the external redesign.
“We are happy to support the design of the new work proposed at the front and back,” the statement adds.
"The rebuilding at the back will be a great improvement on what is there at present.
"The elevation to Station Back Lane will never be an object of beauty but will look much better.”
However, the society had strong words for changes proposed to the museum displays.
"George Stephenson’s connection with Chesterfield is very slight and is certainly not something on which to base an entire museum display,” the society said.
There was also criticism of the choices made for some of the other displays, including some with ‘no close connection with the town’.
They also say little attention is given to the town’s history before 1870 with some ‘staggering’ omissions, including the impact of the railways from 1840.
"The displays will become little more than a monument to what was fashionable in some parts of the museum world in 2022,” the society added.
"It will not tell the story of Chesterfield and once the novelty has worn off visitor numbers will once again drop off.”
Councillor Tricia Gilby, Chesterfield Borough Council leader, has said she hopes the plans will create ‘a flagship visitor experience in one of the town’s most iconic and striking buildings’.