Celebration of Suffolk projects

EXCELLENCE in protecting and enhancing Suffolk's environment is being celebrated by one of the county's campaign groups.The Awards for a Better Environment scheme was launched last year by the Suffolk Preservation Society (SPS) in an attempt to highlight successful efforts to protect the landscape, restore historic buildings and design new buildings and to engage the public in a debate over the future of the county.

David Green

EXCELLENCE in protecting and enhancing Suffolk's environment is being celebrated by one of the county's campaign groups.

The Awards for a Better Environment scheme was launched last year by the Suffolk Preservation Society (SPS) in an attempt to highlight successful efforts to protect the landscape, restore historic buildings and design new buildings and to engage the public in a debate over the future of the county.

More than a dozen projects were entered and the two winners are announced today .


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Restoration of the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, has won the Duke of Grafton prize - for exemplary work to protect or enhance the historic built heritage.

The River Rat Project, organised by the Museum of East Anglian Life, is the winner of the EADT prize - for exemplary work to manage, protect or enhance the countryside or coastline.

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Both projects will be receiving cheques for �2,500.

After the judges encountered problems in interpreting the criteria for the Alfred Williams Prize - for modern buildings or extensions of distinction and excellence - they decided not to identify a winner. The criteria is to be reviewed before the next competition - in 2010.

SPS director Richard Ward said: “These awards are designed to celebrate those outstanding projects which have made a huge difference to the special environment we enjoy here in Suffolk.

“The entries we received show what can be achieved when an holistic approach is used to develop schemes with care, sensitivity and imagination. We are delighted to be able to recognise the significant contribution these projects have made to preserving and enhancing our environment and heritage.”

Mr Ward said the Theatre Royal restoration was a “magnificent” example of how a building could be returned to its original use with care and sensitivity, preserving our heritage for the future.

“The attention to detail which has gone into the work is truly striking, while its well thought-out design has also brought together the old and the new, successfully marrying the Georgian building with a contrastingly contemporary extension.

“As a result, audiences at the theatre are now benefiting from the best of both worlds, enjoying modern facilities and rich history at the same time,” he said.

The River Rat Project, involving the restoration of farmland and the creation of woodland and wetland habitats, was an excellent example of how organisations could work with the community to make a major contribution to managing Suffolk's precious landscape and countryside for everyone to enjoy.

“As well as preserving a lot of important wildlife habitats, the scheme has also helped us learn more about the area's history by drawing a link between the osier beds and Stowmarket's basket-making past.

“The River Rat Project is the perfect example of lots of small projects combining to have a major effect. We hope that others will be inspired by its success, which shows we can all play a part in helping to keep Suffolk special,” he said.

Meredith Bowles, chairman of the judging panel, said judges had been impressed with the detailed design of the interior of the Theatre Royal, together with the “intelligent and sensitive incorporation of modern services, and the way in which the original Regency building has been both preserved and made fit for contemporary use.”

He added: “The restoration and additions to this truly unique gem of a building have secured its future for many years, and have ensured its continued use as a cultural building within the community.”

Mr Bowles said the River Rat Project had involved the clearing by hand of 20 years' worth of vegetation, clearing two kilometres of the river, providing bridges, paths, and fencing and planting 450 trees and more than 1.5km of hedging.

“The result of this has seen a massive increase in animal and plant species, including many listed on the Biodiversity Action Plan list, such as the otter and the oxlip.

“What is truly impressive is the fact that this ambitious scheme has been achieved with very limited funds and has galvanised the support of many local volunteers and groups who have put in thousands of hours to implement the scheme.

“This is a conservation project which recreates something lost, and in doing so has brought about a richer life,” he said.

Mr Bowles said judges had “regretfully” not felt able to make an ward for the Alfred Williams prize - for modern buildings or extensions of distinction and excellence achieved in the best environmentally and sustainable manner utilising, where possible, local materials and minimising its carbon footprint.

“The prize sets out specific and demanding criteria, and the number of entries that fulfilled all these were limited.

“ The judges visited some superb buildings, but only one that it was felt fully complied with the terms of the award, which, due to unforeseen circumstances,was subsequently withdrawn by the owner,” he said.

Colin Blumenau, artistic director at the Theatre Royal, said: “It needs no saying that this is a building of invaluable historic and theatrical importance on both a regional and national scale.

“The restoration has ensured a bright future for this unique Regency gem and enabled us to undertake a project of international significance to restore the lost repertoire of Georgian drama.

“It is also, quite simply, one of the most beautiful playhouses in the country and it is wonderful that it has been preserved it for generations to come,” he added.

Tony Butler, director of the Museum of East Anglian Life, said: “This is the first time we have won an award for the work we have carried out on the landscape around the museum, and we are absolutely delighted. The project has been a real community effort, and has added another important dimension to the museum by allowing us to show people how the landscape influenced the area's economy.”

david.green@eadt.co.uk

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