North Suffolk theatre gets lotto boost

A 19th Century north Suffolk theatre which was saved from possible conversion into flats is set to be fully restored thanks to a £276,000 award from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

A 19th Century north Suffolk theatre which was saved from possible conversion into flats is set to be fully restored thanks to a £276,000 award from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The award, announced yesterday for the Fisher Theatre at Bungay, is expected to attract a further £500,000 in funding from sources, which include the European Union and the East of England Development Agency.

"It is very exciting – it looks as if we will now be able to go-ahead with the major works," said Judy Kelsey, spokeswoman for the group behind the rescue and restoration project.

The theatre was built in 1828 by David Fisher whose family's enterprise, the Norfolk and Suffolk Company of Comedians, was responsible for the creation of 12 other theatres in the two counties.

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It closed in 1844 and was later used as a corn hall, furniture store, laundry, cinema, a wholesale clothing business and, most recently, an Army surplus store.

In 1995 the then owner put the building up for sale and gave local arts lovers three years to find the purchase price. Attempts failed and the project floundered until 2000 when the next owner went into receivership and the property was put on the open market, attracting outline plans for conversion into flats.

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However, the building was eventually purchased by the newly-formed Bungay Arts and Theatre Society (BATS) with the help of a substantial loan from the Architectural Heritage Fund.

Since then some improvements have been made, including emergency repairs to the roof and the creation of a foyer area with toilets.

However, the major works, including full roof repairs, the provision of a new floor and the opening up of the basement area and adjoining rooms once used as living quarters by the actors, were delayed while the Heritage Lottery Fund application was fully researched and completed.

Now the theatre is set for full restoration, subject to the remaining funds falling into place.

"The Heritage Lottery money is usually the trigger for the release of funds from other bodies. We cannot guarantee it, of course, but the situation looks very good indeed," Ms Kelsey said.

"It has been a very long struggle and there was no doubt at one time that we were in danger of losing the opportunity to restore the theatre and make it available for community use," she added.

Money for the early stage of the project also came from Waveney District Council, Suffolk County Council, the EU's, Single Regeneration Budget, Bungay Town Council, Bungay Town Trust, the Theatres Trust and BATS' own fund-raising.

The next two fund-raising events are an evening of Songs from the Musicals on December 6, tickets on 01986 893952 and an illustrated talk by Geoffrey Munn from Antiques Roadshow on December 28 tickets 01986 894338.

Other Fisher Theatres in East Anglia were at Beccles, Eye, Halesworth, Lowestoft, Newmarket, Sudbury and Woodbridge.

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