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Research could help save building

PUBLISHED: 21:10 04 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:37 03 March 2010

CAMPAIGNERS are hoping that research which saved a building gifted to a Yorkshire town could help stop one of Felixstowe's most treasured properties being bulldozed by a council.

CAMPAIGNERS are hoping that research which saved a building gifted to a Yorkshire town could help stop one of Felixstowe's most treasured properties being bulldozed by a council.

The case of the Victorian mansion The Rydings in Brighouse is not dissimilar to that of the Herman de Stern in Felixstowe.

Both were built as gifts to their towns and donated to the residents in perpetuity, and both ended up in the hands of the local councils as stewards or "owners".

Now both councils want to either sell them off or demolish them.

Except that in Brighouse the plan to close down the building, used as a library and gallery, has had to be shelved after it was discovered that a council has no right to sell off a building which was given as a gift to the townspeople.

Thanks to the research of rookie reporter Ed Howker on the Brighouse Echo, the terms on which the building was donated have been discovered.

Now campaigners in Felixstowe are hoping that will mean the Herman de Stern – until recently the resort's smallest theatre – can also be saved.

Doreen Rayner, chairman of the West End of Felixstowe Residents' Association (WEFRA), said: "We are pursuing a number of new matters and taking advice and we hope what has happened in Brighouse can now happen here.

"The Herman de Stern was given to Felixstowe as a gift – a gift for the people, not for the council to dispose of just because it has neglected it.

"It is a part of the town's history and heritage. In fact, it is not an old building and was built by master craftsmen of the Victorian/Edwardian era and is over twenty years younger than properties in Manor Terrace.  

"We have lost a number of other important properties in the past 15 years and we should be doing what we can to keep those we have left. We should not be letting them be bulldozed – we should be putting them to good use."

Mrs Rayner is now trying to get access to a copy of the deeds of the building in Sea Road, and also to see the will of Baroness de Stern, in whose honour it was named when it opened as a convalescent home.

Residents would like to see the Herman de Stern continue as a theatre – it had proved an excellent venue for small shows, gigs, fashion evenings, lectures, revues and rehearsals – and arts centre, with some community use.

But Suffolk Coastal council says it is part of the 17-acre south seafront site earmarked for a multi-million pound tourist attraction, and, while no final decisions have been taken yet, it is likely to be demolished.

The council says the building is too costly to save. Around £40,000 would need to be spent to remove dangerous asbestos, and it would cost at least £500,000 to convert it to community or arts uses.

The council says the building is not easy to convert to other uses and it would not be right for the council to expend tax-payers money on an expensive maintenance or refurbishment programme.

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