St Anne’s Chapel reopens for full community use following extensive renovation.

Barnstaple Mayor Lesley Brown with architect Jim Gardener at the old school desks inside the renovated chapel.Barnstaple Mayor Lesley Brown with architect Jim Gardener at the old school desks inside the renovated chapel.

BARNSTAPLE will celebrate the reopening of St Anne’s Chapel today (Saturday) after three decades of disuse.

A £249,000 and 20 week restoration project led by Barnstaple Town Council has seen the 700-year-old building brought back to health and ready for community use.

It will be officially reopened at 10.30am by the Mayor, Councillor Lesley Brown, with the whole town invited to a launch event featuring costumed historical characters, guided tours, workshops and music.

The Grade I listed building, used as a grammar school until 1910 and with its school desks still in place, has been effectively closed for 30 years, with only occasional openings for tours or heritage events.

Barnstaple Town Council's Ian Parker examines the paper dart aeroplanes discovered during the chapel renovation.Barnstaple Town Council's Ian Parker examines the paper dart aeroplanes discovered during the chapel renovation.

The refurbishment was made possible by £148,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £75,000 from Devon County Council.

Contractor Pearce Construction, working with architects the David Wilson Partnership, needed to entirely strip the ‘modern’ plaster inside the building and replace it with traditional plaster similar to the original.

In the process a trove of historic treasures emerged, including paper dart ‘aeroplanes’ and scribbled notes written by long ago students.

The work added new lighting, power, heating and data points plus modern toilet facilities, while maintaining the historic nature of the chapel.

Councillor Catherine Upcott, chairman of the council’s heritage committee, which has overseen the project, said now the town had a unique, easily accessible space:

“It can be used for anything from a mother and toddler group to performing arts, as an exhibition space or as a hall, it’s so versatile,” she said.

“I think the work is amazing and it will benefit the whole town. The Lottery funding is for three years and when that ends it needs to pay for itself, but as long as people use it, there is no reason why it should ever need to shut again.”

County Councillor Brian Greenslade, who secured money from the sale of Exeter Airport for the project, said it was ‘a super example of how the money can be best used’:

“It makes things happen, draws funding from outside and has brought a lovely old historic building in the town back to a state we can really be proud of,” he added.

Anyone who would like to hire the chapel for an event, find out more or take a guided tour is invited to call the town council on 01271 373311.