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Mystery over Harleston Corn Exchange

PUBLISHED: 11:03 12 August 2010 | UPDATED: 09:20 16 September 2010

Mystery surrounds the future of a prominent south Norfolk landmark, which closed five years ago.

The imposing Harleston Corn Exchange has served the public in many guises in its more than 160 year history, including a venue for second world war dances, regimental balls, a magistrates' court, and shopping arcade.

MYSTERY surrounds the future of a prominent south Norfolk landmark, which closed five years ago.

The imposing Harleston Corn Exchange has served the public in many guises in its more than 160 year history, including a venue for second world war dances, regimental balls, a magistrates' court, and shopping arcade.

But fears have been raised that the listed town centre building could return to the “at risk” register after being left redundant for five years.

The 19th century corn exchange closed its doors in August 2005 after failing to make profit as the Xchange, featuring restaurant, wine bar, function hall, art gallery, crafts and antiques shops and delicatessen.

Community figures have called for the owner to return the building in Exchange Street, to community use as an entertainments venue over concerns that it could become an eyesore again.

The Harleston Corn Exchange, which dates back to 1849 and was designed by Norwich architect John Bunn, received a major restoration in 2004 when its then owner, Mendham-based actor Brad Lavelle, turned it into the Xchange.

But nine months later, the venture closed leading to the loss of 20 jobs and the venue was sold in August 2006 for more than £600,000 to an unnamed bidder, believed to be a Northern Irish investment company.

Community leaders fear that the mothballed hall, which came off English Heritage's Buildings at Risk Register following its refurbishment six years ago, may eventually be subject to an application to turn it into housing.

David Cumming, chairman of the Harleston Players, said the amateur dramatics group had looked at getting funding together to buy the Corn Exchange as a community theatre, but the £600,000 guide price was too high.

“It has always been a white elephant. It would be nice to do something with it rather than having a dead space, but it has never made money,” he said.

Sue Kuzmic, chairman of Harleston Town Council, added that it was a shame that the corn exchange had never been in public ownership.

“It is so sad. It used to be a really big community venue. It is one part of Harleston that we would like to get back into community use, whether it is Harleston Players or the town council. It seems such a shame because it is prominent in the middle of the town,” she said.

Philip Whitehead, conservation officer at South Norfolk Council, added that the authority was keeping a close eye on the state of the building.

“If a listed building is empty for a long period and starts to deteriorate, it would return to the [Buildings at Risk] list. It had a major restoration and it is in pretty good order. Obviously, it needs someone to take it over and do something with it,” he said.

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