THE once shabby caterpillar of the old Ilfracombe council offices has emerged after nine months and spread its wings as a £1 million butterfly in the shape of The Ilfracombe Centre. The listed 1930s building was officially reopened on Friday as a fully re

THE once shabby caterpillar of the old Ilfracombe council offices has emerged after nine months and spread its wings as a £1 million butterfly in the shape of The Ilfracombe Centre.The listed 1930s building was officially reopened on Friday as a fully renovated, massively expanded and improved "one stop shop" containing everything from council services to Citizens Advice, Job Centre Plus, training facilities and voluntary community groups.In other words, instead of having to go to Barnstaple, people can sort out almost everything on their doorstep, either face to face with officers or via dedicated Internet or free telephone connections, from housing, benefits and council tax to recycling, environmental health and transport. The project was carried out by Pearce Construction, to plans provided by RGP Architects and with funding from the European Regional Development Fund, South West RDA, district, county and town councils.Speaking at the opening ceremony, the Mayor, Councillor John Swan, said:"This is a very special occasion and no-one is more pleased than me to welcome this building, which has been a long time in the making."Mr Swan thanked all those who had contributed to the project, including the funders, the council's own strategy group which began the process, builders, architects and those whose individual efforts had ensured success, especially centre manager Andrea Beacham:"I think together we have made a superb job," he added "We have converted what was an old redundant building into three floors of valuable space which will support and help the community."The transformation is a startling one and the work has ensured the building is no longer under-used; examples include the large computer training suite now home to North Devon Pathfinder but once a dark unused basement."Ilfracombe town councillors in particular have put a tremendous amount of work into the project," said manager Andrea Beacham."The result is a useful and valuable asset of business, training and service accommodation, no longer a drain on the town's resources."The council chamber - which once boasted mould growing on the damp ceiling - has been turned into a modern meeting and conference facility, but retaining the ornate panelling and unique art deco features which had led to the building being listed.Councillor Paul Crabb has been involved with the project practically from day one:"We knew many people found it difficult to access services they were entitled to - and in many cases didn't know were available - so we wanted to address this," he said."We had a building that was under-used and in serious need of investment; we had already put aside money to replace the windows and decided to try to attract match funding. That initial investment snowballed into more than £1 million from external sources."County council leader, Councillor Brian Greenslade, added: "This working together is something we are very confident with and we are delighted to see this shining example."The centre has already achieved acclaim and I wish it every success."Groups which would like to hire its training, conference or office spaces. Call (01271) 855318 for information.