PICTURES: Behind the scenes of work to restore Buxton’s historic Octagon hall

Restoration of the Octagon, the new exterior colour scheme is described as Alabaster and Plum and is intended to be more historically accurate
Restoration of the Octagon, the new exterior colour scheme is described as Alabaster and Plum and is intended to be more historically accurate

The restoration of Buxton’s Octagon hall is now in its ‘final stages’ ahead of its reopening this summer, council chiefs have confirmed.

Three years on from the discovery that the iconic building needed serious structural repairs, there is now light at the end of the tunnel and the Grade II-listed venue - which dates back to the 1870s - is expected to reopen at the end of July.

High Peak Borough Council has invested in a programme of major remedial works, including laying a new maple floor and installing a ring beam to support the historic columns.

Terry Crawford, visitor services manager for High Peak Borough Council, said: “This is a very exciting time for us, our clients are excited and our customers are excited, and we can very clearly see light at the end of the tunnel now.”

Work started in the spring of 2017, and the first project to be tackled was the steel beams in the ceiling.

Project officer Christian Stanyer said: “We have been dragging this project into the 21st Century.

“We have to future-proof this wonderful building for future generations and getting the structure sorted was the key.

“For me it has been one of the most interesting parts of this project to help repair it.”

The new floor is due to be laid on July 9, the final step in the massive redevelopment project.

This is expected to take around three weeks to install.

Coun Tony Kemp, executive councillor for tourism and regeneration, said: “I am relived that we can see an end now.

“When we saw the original photographs from the investigation, which showed how much work needed doing, I was worried that a building we saved from the planners back in the 1970s we would lose to a bad storm.

“We have been on quite a journey to get to this stage now and I understand there was a lot of concern when we announced we were closing for the repairs, but this needed to be done to ensure the building will survive.”

When the Octagon reopens its doors to the public it will look very different to visitors - for example, there will be a wall of glass installed looking from the Pavilion Gardens buildings into the Octagon reception near to the cafe and bar.

Experts analysed paint on the walls and found 27 different layers from past years.

When work is completed, the colour scheme will reflect the original palette.

So instead of black and whites, visitors can expect plums, creams, and dark greens.

Paul Kelsall, senior officer at the Pavilion Gardens, said: “This is a fantastic and versatile space, and going forward we have created a space that is fit for purpose for a variety of events.

“Being all glass, this room used to get very hot very quickly as the sun shone through and the only option was to close the big drapes.

“We have thought about these problems and not only have we installed new fans we have temperature-controlled windows which will open automatically when it reaches a certain temperature.

“The new vertical blinds can move up and down according to the position of the sun to ensure there is adequate light in the room.”

High Peak Borough Council confirmed the budget for the repair work was £919,000, and formed part of a wider £3m project of major remedial work to those buildings not renovated between 2008 and 2010.

The council also had to pay out for a temporary marquee which had allowed events to continue while the Octagon has been closed. This was removed earlier this year.

Paul continued: “The dedication people and businesses have shown to us while we have been shut makes it all the more worthwhile to know we will be providing an all-year-round, fit-for-purpose venue.”

With the renovations nearing competition, thoughts are now turning to the long-term future of the Gardens.

The Advertiser recently reported how the council was considering appointing a private company to take over the day-to-day running of the hospitality, catering and events services at the Pavilion Gardens.

Coun Emily Thrane, the council’s executive councillor for finance and operational services, said: “We will still own the building, but will not be running it.

“No-one is suggesting that the Gardens would become a paid-for attraction, we would just have a company with better expertise who can get the most out of the facilities and operate longer hours which would benefit residents and visitors alike.”

Coun Kemp added: “This has always been part of the journey for the Octagon and we have been very clear about this.

“It is very unusual that for a town as small as Buxton, with around 20,000 people, it has such wonderful and magnificent buildings like the opera house and the Octagon and in such a unique setting.

“We will never be able to give it the resources it needs to help it reach its full potential, so we need experts in their field to come in and make the most of these gems to keep them going so they never become at risk of being shut down.”