THERE was a real village atmosphere to the grand opening of Sidmouth's Kennaway House on Saturday, supported by hundreds of residents and visitors.
They enjoyed dance displays by Sidmouth Steppers and Diamond Cheer Squad on the lawn fronting the newly-restored Regency building, music by Sidmouth Town Band and Exeter City Jazz Band, Kennaway Krunch ice cream and a delicious hog roast as well as having the chance to look round what is establishing itself as a real community building.
There was good support from the Kennaway family, with Escot's present incumbent, John Michael Kennaway, there, together with his wife Lucy mother Christina and sisters Irma; who flew in from Italy, and Julia.
Mary Kennaway, granddaughter to Sir John Kennaway, Sidmouth's first MP, who lived there, donated a wooden bench and patio table and chair set for the occasion and said: ""It is a very special day.
""I have been inside and it looks absolutely brilliant. I think Sir John would have been very proud indeed.""
Former treasurer, John Edwards, helped secure a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £554,000, and major funding was given by local authorities.
They were represented by chairmen of East Devon District Council (Councillor Graham Liverton) and Sidmouth Town Council (Councillor Peter Sullivan), with Councillor Stuart Hughes representing Devon County Council.
At 4pm, East Devon MP Hugo Swire, patron of Kennaway House, unlocked the front door and declared the building officially open.
""It is a great honour and privilege to declare Kennaway House officially open,"" he said.
Passionate about the town, he described Sidmouth as ""the most beautiful seaside town in the UK - although Budleigh Salterton is wonderful too.""
People had responded brilliantly to the appeal to restore the house: ""an architectural gem in the town.""
Mr Swire paid tribute to Dr Michael James' determination as chairman to restore the house.
""Without Mike I don't believe we would be where we are today and I thank him on behalf of us all.""
Dr James told the crowd: ""Nearly eight years ago this beautiful derelict building was due to be closed and sold off for development.
""That didn't happen because a small group of people got together and decided to try and raise the enormous sum of money needed.""
He thanked Friends of Kennaway House for fundraising and organising Saturday's event.
Judging local support, he felt the house would be well used and was ""quite pleased"" restoration was complete.
""I think it is a great asset to Sidmouth and the wider area of East Devon and a wonderful venue for wedding receptions, golden weddings and art exhibitions.""
Kim Smith, a neighbour of Kennaway House, praised the trustees' determination and Friends of Kennaway House to raise the £1 million needed to resurrect the dilapidated building.
""I remember Councillor Ted Pinney telling me he had to rush down here and put a jack up to hold the roof up,"" said Mr Smith, a former town councillor.
He said Michael James and John Edwards had done a ""fantastic job"" and it was an asset to the town.
""As a neighbour I can say the restoration team went out of its way to be as helpful as possible and we hardly noticed the noise.