'Athenaeum will not be sold off'

THE man entrusted with the upkeep of one of Suffolk's most prestigious landmarks has vigorously denied claims the building could be sold in the near future.

THE man entrusted with the upkeep of one of Suffolk's most prestigious landmarks has vigorously denied claims the building could be sold in the near future.

The Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds was turned down for almost £500,000 Lottery funding, sparking fears the Grade I Listed building could be sold.

But Andrew Varley, St Edmundsbury Borough Council's portfolio holder for arts and culture, has refuted these claims and described the landmark as a "precious resource".

Mr Varley said: "We will absolutely not be selling the building – it is such a wonderful landmark. We are currently doing a management survey of all our properties, which is the responsible thing to do.


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"It is not in our best interests to run buildings which are not necessarily doing anything but the Athenaeum is a precious resource of the town and we will carry on using it as we always have."

Although admitting the decision by the Heritage Lottery Fund was a blow, Mr Varley said different options would now be looked at to develop the building, albeit on a smaller scale.

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"The Athenaeum will carry on doing what it has always done and we will now look at ways of going forward," he said.

"We need to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act and there are also a number of other ways in which we could improve hosting functions.

"The scheme may have to be scaled down and we are now looking at different options to achieve this.

"The people who run it do a fantastic job and the building has been growing and growing impressively. We now want to make sure they can do this even better."

St Edmundsbury Borough Council, who has owned the building for almost 70 years, had set aside £350,000 from their own reserves to help refurbish part of the Georgian assembly rooms and install disabled access.

After initially seeking a grant of almost £850,000, a Lottery bid for £496,000 was recently turned down by the Heritage Fund.

A letter to the council said the project represented "insufficient value for money" and there was little extended benefit to the wider community.

The Athenaeum, which has a ballroom designed in the style of Robert Adam and was built in 1714, was the venue for readings given by Charles Dickens when he stayed at the Angel hotel, mentioned in his novel The Pickwick Papers.

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