Stowmarket: Wilko Johnson helps Peel Centre team celebrate

Members of the team behind the John Peel Centre for Creative Arts including late DJ John Peel's wido

Members of the team behind the John Peel Centre for Creative Arts including late DJ John Peel's widow, Sheila Rvenscroft (fifth from left) Pic by Tony Bell - Credit: Archant

IT wasn’t a traditional ribbon cutting ceremony or champagne toast that officially reopened the John Peel Centre for Creative Arts - it was the crash of a famous rocker’s electric guitar that did the honours.

Wilko Johnson is on hand to reopen the John Peel Centre for Creative Arts. Pic by Tony Bell

Wilko Johnson is on hand to reopen the John Peel Centre for Creative Arts. Pic by Tony Bell - Credit: Archant

Wilko Johnson - formerly of rhythm and blues Dr Feelgood - was on hand to perform at the centre on Thursday as those involved with the project since its inception celebrated the completion of the latest phase of building work.

The former Stowmarket Corn Exchange now has a fully-equipped stage, a new kitchen and toilets, as well as a raised viewing area and bar.

In total more than £1.2million has now been spent on the Peel Centre - named in honour of late BBC broadcaster and live music champion John Peel, who lived nearby in Great Finborough - and the cash has all come from fundraising, grants and donations.

Sheila Ravenscroft, Mr Peel’s widow, has been involved form an early stage and said the finished building was “just amazing” and like nothing else in the area.

She said: “I actually remember one person who I wanted to put something on and he just said ‘you’ll never do it - it’s a health and safety hazard’ and I argued the toss. The other night when we had our first big gig on and the atmosphere was wonderful.

“In smartening it up and giving proper facilities like toilets and a nice bar - and it’s still not a big venue, it’s a small venue, which in a way is good because it makes it more intimate - we haven’t lost the character of the building. We’ve managed to maintain the character and I’m really pleased we haven’t lost that.

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“I firmly believe, because I’m a very optimistic person, that people are going to flock to this place because we’ve got something quite different here.

“We’ve just got to expand on what we’ve got and I think we’re going to have some really good people here - people will want to come and play here because it’s going to be a very intimate special place to come to and I want it to be a cult place to come to.”

Andrew Stringer, chair of the community interest company set up to run the project, gave an inspiring speech to the assembled volunteers who have all helped in the Peel Centre story.

He said: “Thirty years ago I was a teenager rattling around this town and like a lot of teenagers had a few dreams - one of which was that I was so frustrated that I lived near Stowmarket, because it didn’t seem like the coolest of places, apart from there were some really cool people that lived near it, and I wished, hoped and prayed that one day this damn town would do something cool and I think with your help we’ve just done it.

“So from this teenager, can I say thank you very much for making my dream come true and thank you to all the future teenagers that this building will help fulfil their dreams.”

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