Council wants to turn Boxmoor's 400-year-old Grade II listed Heath Barn into new homes

The historic Hemel building has seen the start of marriages and punk bands and so should remain in the community's hands, campaigners say
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Campaigners want to turn an old barn and music school into a community centre – but a council has said the buildings should become five homes instead.

Grade II listed Heath Barn and Heath Farmhouse in Hemel Hempstead have been empty since 2019, when decision-makers moved Dacorum Music School into the main Hemel Hempstead School campus next door.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Hertfordshire County Council has put together plans for five homes in the old buildings, which date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, around the time Elizabeth I and James I were on the throne.

Heath Barn, Hemel Hempstead. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRSHeath Barn, Hemel Hempstead. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRS
Heath Barn, Hemel Hempstead. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRS

But a group of campaigners have called on local authorities to “restore and repurpose” the site “for the use of the whole community”.

Gill and Tony held their wedding reception at Heath Barn 26 years ago.

“It was just so charming,” Gill, aged 62, said. “We got married in St John’s Church. It was July and all our guests walked over, our guests commented on what a lovely venue it was.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It wasn’t normally used for weddings, but it was in the school holidays and they were happy to hire it out to us. Children could play all day in the gardens and we had a disco into the night.

Boxmoor Playhouse, Hemel Hempstead. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRSBoxmoor Playhouse, Hemel Hempstead. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRS
Boxmoor Playhouse, Hemel Hempstead. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRS

“It was a great place for making a noise because it was a music school. It is a very beautiful building with natural charm.

“All three of our children had their music lessons here. It’s where they learned the piano, guitar, violin. All five of us have felt very, very bonded to the building.”

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service in Boxmoor, Gill added: “We got married at the church, had the reception here, then our friends had a narrowboat moored on the canal.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Everybody in the evening, very drunk, went to the canal and waved goodbye to us, and we had our honeymoon on the narrowboat.”

Gill and Tony. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRSGill and Tony. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRS
Gill and Tony. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRS

Murray, aged 35, started music lessons in the barn when he was aged six and continued playing there until the end of his A levels aged 18.

At 14, he started a punk band in Heath Barn called Race Against Time.

“We used to get told off by the instrument teachers because we were 14-year-old punks playing drums and electric guitar but without it, there would have been nowhere for us to practice and play,” he said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“For A levels, I did music and music tech so I basically lived here with the other music students.

A Dacorum Music School sign outside Heath Barn in Boxmoor, Hemel Hempstead. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRSA Dacorum Music School sign outside Heath Barn in Boxmoor, Hemel Hempstead. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRS
A Dacorum Music School sign outside Heath Barn in Boxmoor, Hemel Hempstead. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRS

“We would stay after school for hours, playing around in the recording studio, learning music.

“I was in bands for 10 or 15 years afterwards as a result. I know loads of other people who also wouldn’t be musicians without Heath Barn.

“The beauty of it at the time is that everyone could use the barn. So if you couldn’t play at home because you lived in flats and it was too loud, you had a place to come which was safe, where you could practise for as long as you like.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We had somewhere to come that was ‘ours’. We used to go on music tours to Prague and Barcelona because we learned here.”

Chris, aged 65, went to Hemel Hempstead Grammar School, now The Hemel Hempstead School.

“I didn’t go on to be a violinist of any great note, unfortunately,” Chris said. “But I didn’t realise how privileged I was to have private lessons.

“We also had a theatre group and I remember doing an open-air theatre production in the quad, at the centre of the barn. The position of Heath Barn is perfect to be used by everybody.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Lisa, aged 39, is coordinating the campaign. She said there are already plans for hundreds of flats and houses near Boxmoor, including Berkeley Homes’ proposal for 483 homes in London Road.

“I’ve seen increasingly people saying they need a studio space, a workshop space to run creative workshops, and there isn’t anywhere,” Lisa said.

“There isn’t anywhere for people to just gather that isn’t difficult to get to. As a woman, I don’t want to go somewhere late at night with a car park miles away.

“We can hire halls, but it’s not the same as something which is multi-functional, perhaps with a café, with various different things going on at the same time. It’s totally unique in what it can offer.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

According to Hertfordshire County Council’s planning application, which Dacorum Borough Council must rule on, the authority’s plans could “bring life back into a disused building and create new residential accommodation in the heart of Hemel Hempstead”.

The design statement reads: “The creation of five new residential dwellings will help to deliver much-needed homes in the area.”

A Hertfordshire County Council spokesperson said: “Following the construction of a new music facility at The Hemel Hempstead School, Heath Barn became vacant therefore the county council’s cabinet decided to sell the building to offset the cost of providing that music facility.

“We have been speaking to a local group who have shown interest in acquiring the building and have advised them of the likelihood of significant costs in restoring it to its Grade II listed status, as well as our expected sale timescales and anticipated market value.

“We have not yet received any firm proposals from the local group and will be proceeding with our timetable as explained to them.”