Major facelift for historic gem

By Liz HearnshawONE of the jewels in Suffolk's architectural crown is to undergo a facelift despite being refused a lottery grant.Officials had feared a plan to renovate the grade I-listed Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds may have been scuppered after the Heritage Lottery Fund refused an application for a £500,000 grant to bankroll the project.

By Liz Hearnshaw

ONE of the jewels in Suffolk's architectural crown is to undergo a facelift despite being refused a lottery grant.

Officials had feared a plan to renovate the grade I-listed Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds may have been scuppered after the Heritage Lottery Fund refused an application for a £500,000 grant to bankroll the project.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council had originally earmarked £350,000 for the scheme, but will now spend a further £20,000 turning the project into a reality - although the work looks likely to be scaled down as a result.


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The money will be spent on installing a lift and new toilets, while steps between rooms on the upper floor will be removed, to bring the Athenaeum into line with disability discrimination laws.

Under the scheme, the kitchen will be refitted, while a “green room” will also be created for performers using the venue.

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The introduction of extra fire escapes will increase the capacity of the building from 200 to about 450 - which should generate extra income of £10,000 each year.

Sara Mildmay-White, the council's portfolio holder for resources, said: “The work we had planned to do with the Heritage Lottery money we are now having to fund ourselves.

“But the Athenaeum is such a beautiful building that it deserves some love and attention. I have long campaigned for buildings the council has saved to be put to better use, so feel this is a really exciting project.

“We would like this to be the primary grade I building in the town. The ballroom is beautiful and the manager has now turned round the lettings side and made a huge success of things with limited facilities. We can spend a bit more and increase the income.”

David Rees, chairman of the Bury Society, added: “I think these plans are excellent. It is a lovely building and everyone who goes into the Athenaeum seems to enjoy the look of it.

“I am all for us using the building as much as possible - and if it will also be a money-spinner, then that is excellent.”

However, a plan to create new offices and stores has been put on hold for the meantime, along with a proposal to restore the Athenaeum's original entrance lobby while installing two new function rooms.

But councillors still have the option to include these improvements - although it will push the overall cost to £575,000.

Members of the council's cabinet will discuss the plans on Wednesday. Should they agree to the proposal, work will begin on the project in January 2006 and will take about six months to complete.

liz.hearnshaw@eadt.co.uk

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