Historic building to undergo facelift

ONE of the county's architectural gems is to undergo a major facelift which officials say will transform it into a premier venue while retaining its “unique charm”.

ONE of the county's architectural gems is to undergo a major facelift which officials say will transform it into a premier venue while retaining its “unique charm”.

Work on the Grade I listed Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds looks set to begin in January after plans for £574,000 worth of improvements were lodged with St Edmundsbury Borough Council yesterday.

As part of the long-awaited project, the kitchen will be refitted and new toilets and lifts installed to comply with disability regulations.

A new reception area and cloakroom with be built and extra fire exits added in the main ballroom, allowing the maximum capacity of the venue to double from 200 to 400.


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As part of the scheme, two additional meeting rooms will also be created in the Athenaeum's front foyer, taking the total for hire to six.

It is hoped an increase in lettings will result from the improvements, generating more income for the council, which owns the building.

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“The Athenaeum is an absolutely beautiful building, and we have always thought it is a premier hall in Bury,” said Sara Mildmay-White, council portfolio holder for resources.

“It has such charm and will become the unique older property, while a new venue will also be provided on the Cattle Market.

“It really will be a huge improvement. The kitchen is currently appalling, and everything is coming to the end of its life. It has got to the stage where we would barely be able to let it because of the facilities.”

Officials had originally hoped to win backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund to meet the costs of the project, but a bid for cash was refused.

Instead, the price tag will be met by the council after members approved funding in February.

“I am really excited about the project, which has been part and parcel of our asset management plan for a long time,” added Mrs Mildmay-White.

“The refurbishment, along with the work at the West Front, will complete the area of town around the Cathedral.

“When I was first elected, I could not believe how many old properties the council was sitting on and not doing much with, so a target was to revamp and refurbish public halls to make them fit for the future while also preserving them.”

If planning permission for the project is approved, the Athenaeum will close for six months from January while the work takes place.

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