Attempts by the Castletown branch of the Royal British Legion to have its building in Janet’s Corner estate de-registered have failed. De-registration would facilitate its sale.
The building was registered five years ago. Since then, the redevelopment of the surrounding housing estate has highlighted the contrast between the smart appearance of the new houses and the shabby state of the legion building, prompting calls to do something about the building.
In 2010, the local authority debated whether the building should be retained as an historic relic or be knocked down.
The Nissen hut was built during the Second World War as part of SS Urly which accommodated Fleet Air Arm servicemen and the hut was used to brief air crews about missions. After the war, the government bought the buildings in the estate and converted them to accommodation. The hut was used for recreation.
The Royal British Legion bought the hut in the 1960s for 5 shillings for use by the ex-service community, many of whom lived in the estate.
Castletown Legion branch treasurer Peter Cain said the branch now finds itself in a difficult position.
‘We have not got the money to maintain it, our members are dying out because of old age and it [ownership of the building] was a trust created by government for the benefit of the ex-service community, the RBL were the trustees.’
De-registering the hall would make its sale easier, he said.
Also, the hall has some asbestos, so would require ‘specialist treatment’.
Mr Cainadded: ‘We wanted to get money from it [the sale]. We wanted to transfer the money raised to the Isle of Man ex-servicemen’s fund.’
He said that the branch ‘went through the process, but were not allowed de-registration.
‘We are now asking permission from [the Legion head office in] Pall Mall as to how we can dispose of it, we are hoping to do a deal with one of the government departments or Manx heritage.
‘It’s a beautiful estate all round it, the hall is sat looking like a sore thumb.
‘It needs the roof taken off and a steel roof put on, and a new hall, I think that’s the way certain people in government want to see it happen.
‘It to be used as a community hall, but they have not got the money.’
Tony Brown believes with vision the hall could be great community asset
With vision the hall would become a great community asset, said Tony Brown, the town’s former MHK.
Mr Brown drove the initiative to register the hall in 2007 and it gained registration in 2008. ‘It was to safeguard it from being demolished,’ he said. ‘I had meetings with the DLGE [Department of Local Government and the Environment, now Infrastructure] and the Legion. This has gone on for years. We had meetings on how to take it forward, the problem was the Legion said: “We have no further use for it”. I agree, but let the community have use for it. When I was chairman of the Manx Heritage Foundation we did research into the historic importance of it in the Isle of Man, it tells quite clearly how unique it is.’
Aside from its historic significance, the estate and that area of the town needs a community hall, he said.
He estimates (after discussion with builders) to refurbish it would cost around £450,000 whereas to knock it down and replace it would cost £750,000. ‘We have not got that sort of money,’ he said.
The cost of removing asbestos would be ‘minor’ he said as ‘there is minimal asbestos’ and the work could be done by a local contractor.
He wants to establish a trust – similar to the one that runs the Centenary Centre in Peel – to run the hall and lease it off the Legion for a ‘peppercorn rent’. He said: ‘It [the trust] could potentially get money from the lottery and government grants. I’m chair of the Castletown Over 60s Club, we have Morton Hall, which is just as big and we have about 70 members, we are able to maintain and run that, we do not have a licensed bar. I cannot see why a trust cannot operate an effective Legion hall.’
He said he proposed this to the Legion committee in 2010, ‘I stepped down because of a difference of opinion between my view and the majority of the committee. I did put the basis of a formula to them and I have never had any proper response to that.’
Mr Brown is still a member of the Legion branch and continues to organise the town’s poppy concert.
He added registration opens the door to ‘many different organisations’ who could help with its refurbishment.
‘Legion numbers are small, it is not like when I was a child, those days are gone, I accept that, but I do not accept it should be lost to the community. My hope is people looking at it and saying get rid of it should have a bit of vision, let’s make this better for Castletown. It’s easy to get rid of things; you do not know its value until it’s gone. The town should be working to preserve it as a valuable asset. It needs vision and commitment, the easy option is to pull it down; you would get something like a double bungalow in its place, more housing. To me that would be most unfortunate to Janet’s Corner and the town.’
He said he knows someone who is ‘prepared to give a lot of money to it’.
‘The Legion should set up a steering committee and go forward and report back “yes” or “no”. We need to identify a way of achieving what we want to do. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, I think the town would regret it.’