£6.4m theatre appeal passes halfway mark

By Liz HearnshawAN appeal to raise £6.4million to restore a Georgian playhouse to its full splendour has passed the halfway mark.A £150,000 grant awarded to the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds has boosted the fundraising to £3.

By Liz Hearnshaw

AN appeal to raise £6.4million to restore a Georgian playhouse to its full splendour has passed the halfway mark.

A £150,000 grant awarded to the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds has boosted the fundraising to £3.6m – meaning a further £2.8m must be secured to hit the target.

The latest handout, from Suffolk County Council's corporate regeneration fund, comes amid a programme of money-making events at the playhouse, which, if all go to plan, could see theatregoers enjoying the new facilities by August 2006.


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Judith Shallow, chairman of the theatre's board of management, said: "This is fantastic news and things are going very much according to plan at the moment.

"We launched the appeal last October and it is a major milestone to be beyond the halfway mark in such a short space of time."

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She added: "If we get all the funding in place, we aim to close the theatre in just under a year's time, with the building work scheduled to take around 18 months.

"Although there is a lot of water to go under the bridge before then, we are still on course."

Ongoing work is taking place applying for cash towards the project from charitable trusts, while fundraising events, including a dinner and dance at Elveden Hall, are also in the pipeline.

Once the target is reached, theatre bosses hope to incorporate state-of-the-art facilities into the restored grade I listed building, which dates back to 1820.

These include a lift for the disabled, a new bar and catering provision, while a plan to mount the stage on a hydraulic platform to allow more flexibility in performances has also been aired.

Speaking of the grant, Colin Blumenau, theatre director, said: "This is tremendous news.

"As the restoration appeal moves forward, it is important not only to receive financial help from local government, but the institutional support and recognition that accompanies these decisions."

The National Trust has already pledged £500,000 to the project and Lottery bosses added their support to the scheme last year, awarding £50,000 to the Theatre Royal to allow further research into décor to take place before a larger sum of £2m is released.

The playhouse has also requested a controversial £1.5m grant from St Edmundsbury Borough Council towards the cost of renovation work.

Negotiations between the bodies are still continuing, but council officials have insisted tax levels would not be affected if the sum was agreed.

liz.hearnshaw@eadt.co.uk

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