A mind-mapping session on the future success of Seaton Jurassic Visitor Centre included ideas for a Jurassic heritage themed soft play, evening restaurant or café, temporary exhibitions and talks, new and more varied exhibits along with a re-design of the layout with a general broadening of its target audience.
These were just some of the topics discussed at the meeting of Seaton Jurassic Forum, on Thursday, 4 November, which was attended by East Devon District Council (EDDC) officers and councillors as well as community figures and groups.
Among the attendees were representatives from Devon Wildlife Trust, Heritage Lottery Fund, Jurassic Coast, Devon County Council, Dr Sam Rose - a world heritage, environment and charity, consultant.
EDDC is having to look at three options which the cabinet will choose between, after further investigations, next year.
The first is to continue the building as an interpretation centre while the second is to turn it into a multi-use community building that includes an interpretation centre alongside other uses.
The third option, should the others not be feasible, would be for EDDC to sell/rent the site to the highest bidder to get the best financial value for it, and pay back grants that were given to build the centre initially.
Although EDDC are investigating all options, the workshop was held to see what the centre could be, in a best-case-scenario world, with the right resources and organisation or group to run it as a remodelled, new-look ‘interpretation centre’.
The forum discussed how the centre could continue to showcase the area’s Jurassic heritage, but also with a wider natural environment and climate change theme and be run in a partnership with multiple organisations like businesses, community groups and charities which could share costs and attract different audiences back to the centre time and time again.
This option would allow the building to include an interpretation centre that would continue to showcase Seaton’s journey through time and its climate change story while having ‘visitor appeal’ and contributing to the local economy.
Ideas included a café or restaurant that could be open throughout the day and evening, a multi-use nature garden and space for community use that could host events like a cinema evening, group activities, community events and temporary exhibitions. It was also mentioned that the National History Museum had a number of exciting exhibitions that could be loaned out.
Problems discussed at the meeting, included issues with design defects of the building which could potentially cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to fix.
This also did not include the cost to change the layout to make it a multi-use building with flexible spaces that could be used by a number of organisations, which would significantly increase the likelihood of the centre being financially successful.
Another factor mentioned was the possible set-up costs, for a new-look multi-use interpretation centre including new exhibits that could be ran as part of a partnership and be financially successful in the long term, while respecting the areas cultural heritage.
The option of continuing to use the building as an interpretation centre is being actively explored but EDDC do need to be mindful of the likely set-up costs involved and the importance of any new use being financially sustainable.
The building will likely remain empty now until next summer, but EDDC has pledged to make every effort to ensure it can used as a café or something similar for a short time during the tourist season in 2022 as we understand the contribution that the building offers to the town and to attracting visitors.