Builder turned dance teacher to open arts venue in empty historic building
- Credit: Tom Soper
A prominent listed building that has stood partly empty for years will soon be opening as a brand new arts and events venue in the heart of Bury St Edmunds.
James Stringer is behind the plans for Market Cross in Cornhill, which is a Grade I listed property that used to house Smiths Row art gallery on the first floor.
The space has been vacant for about five years, but in May it will open as 'Market Cross Community of Creatives' - a hub for creative people offering dance and pilates classes, art lessons, open mic nights, piano performances, art exhibitions and more.
Mr Stringer, 44, from the town, had been a builder since leaving school, but eight years ago got the dance bug and now teaches street salsa, bachata and pilates through his company Phoenix Pilates & Dance Ltd.
The father-of-three will be running his classes at Market Cross, but others can also book the building; tickets for artist Louise Gridley's six-week life drawing course are selling well.
Mr Stringer said there was "definitely" a need for such a venue in the town.
"There's not a space that caters for giving people experiences where they can do workshops and classes all the time and certainly not a place that does something different to normal pubs or bars. Monday nights there will be a salsa class and social dancing."
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He added: "Bury is full of creative people, well Suffolk is really."
He commissioned local artist Tom Crittenden to do a painting and sketch of the Market Cross, which will hang inside.
Mr Stringer said the coronavirus pandemic had given him the "breathing space" to plan everything, adding when they do open they have a huge space for social distancing.
The venue has a full premises licence and is taking delivery of its bar, grand piano and stage soon.
The bar has been made by local joinery firm AJ Joinery based in Cockfield.
Rachael Mann, director for resources and property at West Suffolk Council, which owns the property, said: “We are delighted that this wonderful new town centre attraction is opening within the historic Market Cross. With restrictions gradually lifting we would encourage people to go out and support the local town centre businesses including this fantastic new venture.”
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