Inside the derelict market hall in Devonport which is about to be transformed

29 Jan 2019

Work is about to begin to transform a 19th century market hall in Devonport into a world-class space for digital industries.

Plans to convert the Grade II Listed building into a £7million hub for digital skills, research, learning and entertainment, were given the go-ahead last year.

A huge immersive dome will be constructed inside an extension to the former market hall as part of the cutting-edge scheme.

And the Real Ideas Organisation (RIO), the innovative social enterprise behind the project, has announced building work is due to start in April this year.

Head of marketing and communications for RIO, Jenny Bishop, added the building should be open for a ‘soft launch’ in summer 2019.

The building, which dates back to 1852, was once – as its name suggests – a market.

But it was walled inside the South Yard Enclave when Devonport Dockyard expanded to encompass bombed areas of the former town centre after World War Two.

The land has been returned to civilian use in the past decade and has now been turned into the Vision housing development.

The Market Hall was handed to Plymouth City Council by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and was then subject to a community asset transfer to RIO.

In 2017 plans were submitted for approval, which would see RIO transform the derelict building into a cutting-edge space for digital skills, research, learning and entertainment.

And in July the proposals were given the go-ahead.

Talking about the plans, Jenny said: “This is a Grade II Listed building, but what we’re hoping to convert it into is a space for digital business, digital learning, and digital arts and entertainment.

“On the side of the existing listed building we are going to create a new extension, with about the same footprint as the current building, which will house a 15-metre in diameter, 360 degree, dome cinema/theatre-type space, so it will be an immersive environment. It will be like virtual reality, without having to wear a headset.

“It is going to create a new platform for people to play with virtual reality, which is having an impact across a whole range of different sectors – health and social care, medical, environmental sciences, and tourism.

“Every child going through primary school now needs to read, write, and code. Our schools are brilliant, but not all schools are set up for coding. This building will offer an education strand should schools or young people independently want to come and learn about coding.”

RIO has allocated a 12-month build phase for the project and some extra time to fit the building out before its official launch.

Jenny added: “We’re hoping that if we do start on site in April as planned, that we will be open for a soft launch in the summer of 2019.”

Not all locals were pleased with the plans when they were announced, with some complaining that light emitted from the dome theatre, which will be the first of its kind in the country, will cause excessive light pollution at night.

Some also worried that parking, which they claimed was already an issue, would only get worse.

But RIO confirmed when the plans were given the go-ahead that additional and dedicated parking will be created for the hall itself.

RIO, which is in partnership with the council, the Institute of Digital Arts and Technology (i-DAT at Plymouth University), City College Plymouth, Devonport High School for Boys and seven tech companies in the region, added the development is key to Plymouth’s growth – especially its “digital ambitions”.

Both RIO and Plymouth-based Le Page Architects have been developing the design since 2013 and Wayne Hemmingway will be responsible for the building’s design inside.


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