Town Hall History
Prominently located on the High Street of the historic burgh of Forres and within the town’s Conservation area, the importance of the Town Hall is reflected in its listing under Category B by Historic Environment Scotland. It has played a significant role at the heart of the local community for nearly two hundred years since it was built to a design by the eminent Aberdeen architect Archibald Simpson.
In 1776 the Forres members of the Masonic Lodge of Dyke increasingly concerned by the time involved travelling to and from Dyke to attend Lodge meetings, and after having found themselves stranded on the Dyke side of the Findhorn River after the river had risen in spate, held a meeting in Forres to discuss the formation of a Lodge in Forres. As a result of this in 1790 the Lodge undertook an ambitious project to build their own premises.
Following the original construction, a rebuilding project took place in 1827-29 to the design of the architect Archibald Simpson. The cost of the building work crippled the Lodge financially and eventually on the 9th of May 1855 the building was sold to the Trustees of the Forres Mechanics Library and Institute for £850. The institute provided a library for the working class as part of the wider International Mechanics’ Institute movement. Whilst being operated by the Mechanics Institute, a new front to the building was added in 1901. During the First World War, the building was used as an Auxiliary Hospital. The hospital opened for patients on 11 November 1914 with beds for twenty men. A year later in 1915 the hospital had 40 beds. The front hall was adapted for a mess. A plaque on the wall of the building, dating from 1919, recognised the role the building played as a Red Cross Hospital.
Between the first and second world wars, the building became Forres Town Hall. During the Second World War the Town Hall was used by the Army. In 1984 the Masonic Lodge decided to move their meetings to the premises of their Sister Lodge St John, effectively ending almost 200 years of association with the building.
Reminiscence projects have recorded peoples’ memories of and uses of the Town Hall over the years. The Town Hall has been used for coffee mornings, parties, pop up shops, public meetings and election polling, fundraising, exercise classes, film and theatre to name a few. Locals remember a time when dances at the Town Hall cost 1/- 6d entrance. Even The Beatles played at the Town Hall on 26th May 1960 as part of the Johnny Gentle tour.
Moray Council closed the Town Hall as part of its cutbacks in 2017. The Town Hall, in its current form, has been at the heart of community service for over 100 years. As such the FACT board felt that the Hall should be protected from reductions or closures and so stepped in to lease and manage the building on behalf of the community for two years. FACT worked successfully with user groups to increase occupancy and use of the building which doubled in the first 12 months under FACT’s management. During the 2 year lease period, the next stage of the Town Hall’s story was to try and secure a sustainable future for it. After a careful process of investigation and community consultation, which showed very strong support for FACT to take over the building, FACT applied for a Community Asset Transfer for the building from Moray Council.
In October 2019, Moray Council approved the transfer of the building, and councillors praised the efforts of FACT in running the building during the transition period. Chair of Moray Council’s policy & resources committee, Cllr Aaron McLean, was pleased that the transfer was a step closer to completion. He said: “As a Forres councillor, I know how hard FACT members and volunteers have been working since July last year, on behalf of Forres residents, to secure the future of the Town Hall. I hope that the rest of the process runs smoothly and that FACT can soon call themselves proud owners of Forres Town Hall. We have already seen a great improvement in the look and use of the building since they took over the tenancy, and I’m sure we will see this continue once they have access to further funding. I’m certain they will provide a much improved facility for the benefit of residents for many more years to come.”
FACT was awarded the Keystone Award for Community Building Management of Forres Town Hall in December 2019. Since taking over the Town Hall, FACT has seen an increase of over 100% on the usage in the year, with over 360 groups booking the building prior to Covid closures. Extensive repairs of Forres Town Hall were completed in March 2020. This included replacing the emergency lighting system, repairing the roof, repairing the lintel above the disabled access and repairing the main hall floor, through funding from the Scottish Landfill Community Fund.
With the help of a grant of £116,365 from the Scottish Land Fund, FACT secured the necessary resources to purchase the Town Hall and complete the plans for redeveloping and refurbishing the building. Planning permission and listed building consent for the regeneration plans were granted by Moray Council in November 2020, and following the completion of a successful community asset transfer process the board and staff of FACT were delighted to announce, as of Friday 26th February 2021, that Forres Town Hall is now under the ownership of FACT.
Joanna Taylor, Chair of Forres Area Community Trust said ‘’ This is tremendous news, and the culmination of a process which began back in 2018. We are now moving forward with a major fundraising strategy to raise the £3.4 million estimated overall cost of a regeneration project to bring the community’s vision for the future of Forres Town Hall to life and to act as a catalyst for positive change in Forres and the surrounding area.’’
This vision will see Forres Town Hall transformed with the entire building being refurbished to create an event venue, community building and co-working space fit for the 21st Century, supporting the community in many and different ways. The Main Hall will be transformed into a modern multi-purpose performance area with retractable seating, the Lesser Hall will be restored to become a beautiful event space once more, and there will be improved accessibility to all areas including the upper floors.
The project will regenerate, refurbish, and insulate the building, and its flexibility of use and attractiveness as an event and activities centre will provide a springboard for a wider regeneration process within the town of Forres. The functionality of the building will be transformed so that it appeals to many user groups by offering a modern flexible event space, multi-purpose training and support spaces, study and workshop spaces, office accommodation and coworking desks. The project will maximise the potential of the building whilst at the same time reducing its environmental impact and running costs. This will lead to the long-term sustainability of Forres Town Hall as an asset for the whole community and help further FACT’s aim to create a better place to live, work and play.
The Town Hall has remained a vibrant facility in the last three years. FACT and other community organisations collectively offer a packed programme of events every week. Check out our What’s Onpage for the current programme.
During the coronavirus pandemic, whilst many groups have had to postpone normal activity, they have used the hall to coordinate relief for those in financial difficulty, provide food banks, as well as assistance for those struggling to access online services.