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People to be asked over arts centre plan

PUBLISHED: 05:32 31 January 2003 | UPDATED: 16:13 24 February 2010

TWENTY thousand people are to be asked their views over plans to convert a derelict corn exchange into a centre for arts and culture.

Harleston Corn Exchange, a Grade II listed building erected in 1838, has stood empty and dilapidated for more than a decade.

TWENTY thousand people are to be asked their views over plans to convert a derelict corn exchange into a centre for arts and culture.

Harleston Corn Exchange, a Grade II listed building erected in 1838, has stood empty and dilapidated for more than a decade.

Its role as a corn exchange and magistrates court came to an end earlier last century and in the 1950s and 60s it was used for various social events, including dances and roller-skating sessions.

Now plans are being drawn up to renovate the building and equip it to meet modern requirements as an entertainment venue. Space for art exhibitions and a tourist information office is also to be provided.

Questionnaires are about to be sent to people living within a large part of north Suffolk and south Norfolk.

Interviews on the streets of the area's market towns will follow and a special questionnaire is being formulated for local teenagers.

The aim is to find out from the public the kind of activities and events they would like to see in the building.

Shop units created in the main hall in the 1970s have been removed to expose the full grandeur of the building which is still in good structural condition despite years of neglect.

The conversion project is the idea of three local people who all have a theatre background.

They are television and stage actor Brad Lavelle, who lives at Mendham, actor turned businessman Keith Taylor of Brockdish, and drama producer, Jo Curry, of Harleston.

Three organisations have been set up to make the dream come true – a building preservation trust, an arts charity and a management company.

Mr Taylor said he and his colleagues had been motivated by the need for local people to often travel to Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds or Norwich to see professional productions.

Apart from Eye Theatre, which holds only 80 people, and Wingfield College, an exhibition and concert venue, there is no professional auditorium within 25 miles.

“This is a big rural area with lots of market towns and people here have as much right to access to the arts than those living in the large urban centres,” Mr Taylor said.

The cost of the conversion work, including the creation of a mezzanine level in the main hall and the provision of dressing rooms, cloakrooms and toilets, is expected to be between £150,000 and £200,000.

Applications for grants will be made to various bodies including the East of England Development Agency.

Anglian Cultural Enterprises, the charity arm of the corn exchange project, is also trying to set up an internet link between local towns and villages to provide a unified approach to tourism and a meeting is planned on February 13.

david.green@eadt.co.uk

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