The “jewel in Mole Valley’s crown” is set to shut over the summer as it undergoes a £3.24million safety refit. Dorking Halls has been recommended for the “minimal” amount of work needed to fix its most immediate problems. A decision on an £8m modernisation of the venue with improved seating, bars, toilets, and sound proofing will be taken next year.
Councillor Nick Wright, cabinet member for leisure and tourism, told overview and select committee at Mole Valley District Council: “The halls are a very important part of Mole Valley’s cultural infrastructure, with over 114,000 tickets sold in 2023. They are used by residents from across the district and beyond.
“The halls are sorely in need of repair and refurbishment and the particular concern is over the state of the 90-year-old fibrous plaster ceiling in the great hall itself.
“This has to be dealt with urgently as a health-and-safety issue and it also costs us a lot in inspections and remedial patches. We absolutely have to avoid any chance of a forced unscheduled closure of the halls for safety reasons.”
Initial studies into the work began in 2022 with three ideas put forward. The first is the minimal safety work, the second an enhanced program to upgrade stages, access and bar areas. The final, which was ultimately not considered, was an aspirational complete remodelling.
The halls would need to close in summer 2025 as well; if the council agrees to go ahead with the second phase of works. The primary focus of the first phase will be to make the ceiling safe. Critical ceiling failure has been identified as a risk. If no work is done, there is the potential that the fibrous plaster in the Grand Hall becomes so unstable that the halls are forced to close at short or no notice.
Any collapse, regardless of whether the public were in attendance, would likely lead to a fine. The report read: “The priority is to address the ceiling at the earliest opportunity, to avoid the risk of being forced to close the Grand Halls to the public at short or no notice, with the associated reputational damage, and financial consequences of cancelling events, refunding ticket sales, and compensating for loss of profit.”
It has been about 30 years since the halls last underwent a large-scale refurbishment, when the building was extended and the current layout created.
The cinema was made digital in 2010 with other minor works also carried out. Cllr David Draper described the work as well deserved and necessary.
Officers told the meeting the site is compliant but that it “struggles to accommodate some shows” with adjustments and limitations enforced which often means performances are restricted, or not the full versions performed in other venues.
The meeting on Wednesday, January 3, heard: “We have to cut things to make it safe and workable so it’s not presenting a danger, it’s just a bit limiting and we’re only just managing.” Cllr Wright said: “Dorking Halls is the jewel in the crown of Mole Valley but its getting a bit tired, it needs a polish, and it needs to look much better than it does at the moment.”
The plans were then signed off later that night during a brief, 30 minute long, extraordinary cabinet meeting.