Min-theatre lotto cash boost

A SUFFOLK village renowned for its annual festival has won £200,000 lottery funding to help create a mini-theatre after eight years of trying and two failed bids.

A SUFFOLK village renowned for its annual festival has won £200,000 lottery funding to help create a mini-theatre after eight years of trying and two failed bids.

It was third time lucky for Woolpit Village Hall and the people behind the scheme, which will transform the venue for locals and visitors alike.

One of Britain's most historic playhouses, the Grade 1 listed Georgian Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, scooped almost £90,000 in the latest round of grants to extend its work in the community.

David Cordon, chairman of the Woolpit Village Hall Committee and former director of the Woolpit Festival, said he was delighted the £300,000 plan to give the community its first proper stage as well as sound and lighting facilities could finally go ahead.

He said £70,000 of the cash was for the stage, lighting and sound equipment and would come from the Arts Council. The scheme also won £130,000 from the Local Fund to go towards the total updating of the hall.

Mid Suffolk District Council is providing £35,000 for the redevelopment and the remaining £65,000 will come from village hall funds.

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Mr Cordon, who during his time as director of the annual festival helped make it one of the best known regional arts events attracting stars such as Jenny Agutter and Sylvia Simms, said news of the grant was particularly satisfying following the two failed bids over the past eight years.

"We started this scheme some eight years ago when we realised that although we had a wonderful festival the village had no stage or changing facilities and what was there was becoming very dilapidated.

"After the last failed bid it was suggested it might be more feasible to put in a bid for joint funding to the Arts Council and the Local Fund and that's exactly what we did and we're all over the moon about this decision.

"It's wonderful news and just goes to show you must never give up. We kept going and now we can build quite a large stage and put in a changing room, provide lighting and a sound system and get some drapes.

"We will have a wonderful theatre venue when we have finished, which we hope to be by Christmas. It will make a vast difference – setting up the stage and the lights in the past has been such hard work and it has all had to be hired in."

Mr Cordon, who leads the Woolpit Drama Club, said the group would celebrate the completion of the work at the village hall with a grand pantomime involving as many local people as possible.

A spokesman for the Arts Council said the hall played host to 36 local clubs and added: "The extension project will allow the hall to erect a permanent stage, to provide lighting, storage and a changing area, and to create facilities for the disabled including a toilet, hearing loop and an electric lift to the stage."

He said the £88,000 for the historic Theatre Royal in Bury would fund a three-year plan to develop its community-based work

Matthew Sanders, head of marketing at the theatre, said: "This will enable us to extend our community activity greatly over the next few years and open up a number of exciting initiatives enabling us to reach a lot more people of all ages in a wider area than we can now."

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