The impressive rejuvenation of Plymouth’s Grade II-listed Market Hall – now home to a world-class space for digital innovation and learning, and Europe’s only 15m flat-floored immersive dome – has been selected as a regional finalist for ‘Best Project’ in the Planning Excellence 2022 awards, by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI.)

Opened in July 2021, Market Hall was developed via a strong partnership between Real Ideas, Plymouth City Council and its Strategic Planning & Infrastructure team, which approached Real Ideas because of their proven track-record of bringing challenging historic buildings back into innovative use. This includes the regeneration of Devonport Column in 2013 and the award-winning Devonport Guildhall from 2007-2010. 

In 2017, Real Ideas commenced work on Market Hall and was able to work closely with architects, builders, and planners to sympathetically restore the building.

The RTPI Planning Excellence Awards celebrate and recognise how planning has a positive impact by creating exceptional places and protecting the environment.

The shortlist is a result of rigorous judging criteria which include: outcomes for people and the community; planning leadership and vision; partnership working; environmental impact; and community engagement. Judges also visit the site of each applicant before making their final selection.

A Grade II listed building, Market Hall is in the heart of Devonport, Plymouth, and was originally built in 1852. The finished project expertly captures its history, utilising ironwork, red brick and industrial materials in keeping with its dockyard roots. The result is an incredibly spacious building with a wow-factor, providing the inspiring backdrop for flexible working space, meeting rooms, and a community café and bar.

The 4,000 strong members of the Real Ideas community now have access to the world-class digital innovation and learning centre that was originally envisaged. 

Lindsey Hall, CEO, Real Ideas, said, “Our vision for Market Hall was to bring a stunning and significant building back into community use, to contribute to the ongoing regeneration of Devonport and to create an accessible, welcoming and engaging space for everyone who visits. The building has quickly become a hub for innovation, providing untold opportunity as an incubator for jobs, research, development, exploration, learning, collaboration and economic development.”

Lindsey continues, “We have swiftly developed an impressive tech cluster around immersive and creative digital, thanks to our world-class dome. It is the first facility of its kind in Europe – and one of only two in the world – and has the unique benefit of being immediately relevant. It is also incredibly good fun – the tens of thousands of people who have experienced the immersive dome in the past year can testify to that.”

Matthew Coombe, Urban Designer at Plymouth City Council says: “As well as providing new public space and integrating successfully with the wider masterplan, Market Hall offers significant new employment opportunities, including for the local community, and has major growth potential, supporting the local economy. It’s a unique facility and destination for Devonport, Plymouth, the region, and beyond.

“Market Hall, and the wider Enclave masterplan, has benefitted from more than 20 years of effective planning and partnership working. As well as rescuing a listed building at risk and opening it up to the local community, the project has provided a successful new destination and a major regeneration catalyst as envisaged by the Devonport Area Action Plan. The project demonstrates effective leadership, strategic planning, flexibility and creativity.”

Market Hall was originally part of a larger market complex which suffered bomb damage in World War II. During the Cold War, it was annexed by the military, effectively removing much of Devonport’s local centre and dividing the neighbourhood in two. The building was used as an industrial warehouse during this time, and fell into disrepair.

The Devonport area has historically suffered from high unemployment and has been classed as an area of deprivation. Since Market Hall’s development, and the re-development of the surrounding area, significant improvements have been made and the area is now attracting start-up companies, helping to provide natural employment opportunities and evident economic growth. Real Ideas will continue to look at green spaces, and other community projects in the neighbourhood, to continue the work and vision for improvements in and around Devonport.

Real Ideas’ latest regeneration project, Liskeard Library, is extending the organisation’s energy and commitment to communities across Devon and Cornwall.

Also a Grade II listed building, Liskeard Library is in the heart of the Cornish market town, and will be renovated to reinstate library services as well as providing a community hub with workspaces, indoor and outdoor event space, and a café.

Lenna Bithell, contracts manager at Real Ideas has been responsible for working with local architects, contractors and planners to re-develop the building. She says, “We strive to nurture local businesses and new talent, it’s what we do. We act as a gateway to employment opportunities and new experiences, and we look for opportunities to put this into practice. We’d like to be able to look back and say Liskeard Library is for the community, built by the community.” 

Market Hall is one of six projects in the South West to reach the finals. The winner of the south west category will go on to compete in a national award ceremony in July.