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VIDEO: Column's reopening marks new beginning for historic Devonport

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 09, 2013

By Sian Davies

Panoramic views from   the renovated Devonport Column, right,  of the Tamar, above, Plymouth city centre, far left, and   the  Royal William Yard and Plymouth Hoe, left   Pictures: Paul Slater

Panoramic views from the renovated Devonport Column, right, of the Tamar, above, Plymouth city centre, far left, and the Royal William Yard and Plymouth Hoe, left Pictures: Paul Slater

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After winding up a dark stone staircase, I have to do a double-take at the sight I am greeted with at the top.

Even though I am puffing and panting after counting every single step – 138, although opinion on this number differs – the view from Devonport Column is worth the aching muscles.

I blink in the bright sunlight as I emerge from the stone structure, and realise I can see all the way from Plymstock, across Plymouth Sound, to Saltash and beyond.

As someone who is fairly new to Plymouth, this is the first time I've been able to see my adopted home so clearly.

I am being shown round by Ed Whitelaw, lead developer and consultant at the Real Ideas Organisation (RIO), a social enterprise which has led the restoration of the column, supported by a £685,000 Heritage Lottery Grant.

Ed's clear passion for the area comes across in his storytelling, while I try to catch my breath at the top of the 124ft climb.

The Grade I-listed column was built by architect John Foulston to mark the renaming of Plymouth Dock to Devonport in 1824.

Completed in 1827, it still stands proudly next to Devonport Guildhall.

But it has been out of use since 1992 – and had only limited public access since the 1950s.

Work started on the site in June last year and is almost complete, ready for the column's grand opening on Saturday, May 11.

"There is fantastic history here," Ed said. "For more than 200 years Devonport was an important destination, but the town declined quite rapidly.

"It has some fantastic buildings, many of which were hidden behind flats.

"But there has always been a strong sense of community and the town has a great asset in terms of history.

"We want to make Devonport a place people want to come to rather than get out of."

As I look out from the caged balcony, I can see new houses emerging from the rubble, alongside boarded-up buildings of the past.

Having transformed the Guildhall, which is now a profitable space, RIO turned its sights to the column to help bring another piece of Devonport back to life.

The column is still owned by Plymouth City Council, but once the work is completed it will be on a 25-year lease to RIO.

Having caught his own breath, Ed said: "Through the Guildhall we have created opportunities to bring people out to the area.

"That opened just over three years ago when the houses weren't here and it was just us – if you create a belief that Devonport is a great place to go then it will be.

"We are here for 25 years. For us, it's just the beginning."

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