DORCHESTER Prison is set to be used for team-building 'war games' – until the market picks up and it can be converted to housing. Ghost hunts and prison tours could also take place at the site.

Owners, City & Country, has asked for permission to continue using the former jail for Airsoft games, which it has been used for on an occasional basis since May 2019.

Dorset Echo:

The company is now seeking a change of use for the site from prison use to community and leisure – although it says this will not involve any alterations to the existing buildings, including the grade II-listed gatehouse.

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City & Country has owned the site since 2013 and has permission for 185 homes on the site, mainly through converting the cell blocks and other buildings.

Controversially none of the homes are classed as 'affordable' although the company has argued that because most will be small they will be at the lower end of the local price range.

The developers have struggled to bring the housing scheme to fruition and more than a year ago started looking for other companies to join them, or for someone else to take over the project.

Some demolition work has taken place, most of it minor, although the boiler house was demolished in January 2020.

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Airsoft games organisers, Cracking Day Limited, have used the site occasional for its games sessions, a use which City & Country says it now wants to regularise with the change of use application, while it waits for the right time to start the residential development.

The games involve firing non-marking pellets at other competitors while 'capturing' various objectives and is often used for team-building exercises.

The company holds similar events in the former Gloucester Prison.

“This will give members of the public a new, exciting way to enjoy the historic spaces that has been closed to the public for its entire history and will be out of bounds as a construction site for a number of years whilst the site is being redeveloped,” said the company’s application to Dorset Council.

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Other activities may include ghost hunts and other community events, according to paperwork with the application.

“As all activities will be within the extent of the existing buildings and prison walls, the potential for noise breakout is expected to continue to be minimal and therefore the change of use will have no adverse impacts on the character or environment within this part of the Dorchester Conservation Area,” says the application.

The company says it expects the continuing use of the site to be limited to weekend with occasional gaming, when Covid restrictions allow, on some evenings.

The occasional ghost hunts, also organised by Cracking Day, are expected to start around 8am and could continue until 4am.

Other potential uses include occasional prison tours in return for a charitable donation. Previous open days at the jail have proved very popular.

Parking for all events will be around the gatehouse area and to the west of it – with the ability to accommodate around 60 cars. Several town centre car parks are within close proximity to the building.

“These proposals present an opportunity to maintain a beneficial ‘meanwhile’ leisure use of the historic buildings at the former HMP Dorchester site until the residential-led redevelopment of the site commences,” said the conclusion of the City & Country application.