The building 'forgotten' by years of regeneration
A LANDMARK pub in the heart of Devonport is struggling to stay afloat – its owners saying they have been "left behind" by a decade of regeneration.
The Leaves family have had to remortgage their home to keep the Ker Street Social Club in business.
Unable to tap into grant funding, they have watched enviously as £2.5million has been splashed on revamping neighbouring buildings in the street.
Workmen have just arrived at the Devonport Column, where a £685,000 project aims to restore the 124ft tower to its former glory.
The work follows the much-needed £1.75million facelift given to Devonport Guildhall last year.
Husband-and-wife team Ann and Allan Leaves have been behind the bar at the Ker Street Social Club since selling their house to buy the striking Egyptian-themed Odd Fellows Hall 23 years ago.
"It hadn't been used for 15 years and it seemed like a good idea at the time," said Allan. "It's turned out to be the worst thing I've ever done."
Only after exchanging keys, the couple say, were they told it was a Grade I-listed building.
That means "bureaucratic red tape" prevents them from modifying the building, living there, or even giving parts of it a fresh lick of paint.
The couple, who run the social club alongside daughter Mandi, say they have spent tens of thousands of pounds battling maintenance costs.
But a new roof is still needed and the historic former school building, which was built in 1823, remains on the official English Heritage 'at risk' register.
The Guildhall and Column – both also designed by city architect John Foulston in the 1820s, but owned by Plymouth City Council – were also on the list until social enterprise the Real Ideas Organisation (RIO) secured restoration funding.
That door is closed to the Ker Street Social Club because, despite remaining a community hub that boasts a children's club, sports teams and even adult reading classes, it is privately-owned.
"We get so annoyed," said 67-year-old Ann. "We've tried so hard to make this work and to get funding.
"Everything around us is getting restored, refurbished or rebuilt, and we've just been left behind.
"They've spent millions on the other buildings but we can't even get funding to install wheelchair access."
Membership at the social club has plunged from 760 in 1995 to fewer than 250 today.
Custom has continued to fall despite Ker Street's run-down flats being bulldozed to make way for smart new townhouses in recent years.
"The redevelopment hasn't helped us at all," Ann said. "At one stage we were the only ones here, and not many people from the past moved back in to the area after the flats were knocked down."
Allan, who is now 70, spends every single evening driving across the city picking up members of the club's teams – such as darts, pool and football.
He said: "The people of Devonport used to run the Ker Street Social Club themselves, really. This was a real community place. It belonged to Devonport.
"But that's all gone now. Our old regulars are scattered all over Plymouth and the new people they've moved in either don't know we're here or don't come in.
"How are we supposed to carry on like that?"
Mandi, 46, added: "We're lucky that we're still here. All we can do at the moment is take it week by week.
"This place needs a complete overhaul, like they've had next door.
"We're losing customers because it's not looking like it should do, but our hands are tied – we can't do anything about it.
"We can't get funding because we actually own the building. But we would never have bought it if we'd have known it was Grade I-listed."
Despite their struggles, the family has recently spruced up the upstairs function room – and pumps all other cash into maintaining the building's costly original features.
Meanwhile, only the elements have delayed scaffolding from going up around the adjacent Devonport Column.
Workmen arrived at the site on Wednesday ready to start work, which is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.
Access to the column, built to commemorate the renaming of Plymouth Dock to Devonport, has been restricted since its railings were deemed dangerous in 1958.
It was fully closed to the public in 1992 and the entrance has been padlocked, overgrown and strewn with rubbish ever since.
RIO lead developer Ed Whitelaw said city students would be working with restoration crews as part of the project.
"It is very exciting," he said. "With the Guildhall as well we are flying the flag for change in the area.
"But there is more to do here and we're always looking forward at other things and other buildings."
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