Theatre restoration scheme revised

By Liz HearnshawTHEATRE bosses have been forced to shave £1.3million from an ambitious restoration scheme after receiving less public funding than they had hoped for.

By Liz Hearnshaw

THEATRE bosses have been forced to shave £1.3million from an ambitious restoration scheme after receiving less public funding than they had hoped for.

They have now scaled down their plans for the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds - originally estimated to cost £6.4m - to fit with a £5.1m overall budget.

Members of St Edmundsbury Borough Council decided on a smaller handout of £250,000 after the theatre had asked it for £1.5m of funding.

Although playhouse bosses said they were “pleased” with the award, they admitted yesterday their restoration plans had been forced to change as a result.

Architects are currently drawing up fresh proposals for the scheme, which will now feature a one-storey foyer rather than the two floors that bosses had originally hoped for.

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The box office, which was to move inside the main playhouse from its current home in a building adjacent to the theatre, will also now remain where it is.

But bosses said they had not compromised on their plans to restore the auditorium to its former Georgian glory - and hope the completed scheme will boost tourism and cultural provision within the town.

Colin Blumenau, director of the Theatre Royal, said: “We are taking a sensible and pragmatic approach in light of the emerging financial situation.

“The focus of the project has always been and will continue to be Wilkins' unique theatre building. Our plans for its restoration have not changed.

“We also remain wholeheartedly committed to creating greatly-improved facilities for our audience and I am confident that we will be able to deliver a major cultural, economic and tourism asset for the borough.”

Once complete, the grade I listed building will be restored to its original 1819 design, while catering, toilet and bar facilities will be improved for audiences.

The fundraising total for the project currently stands at almost £4m and theatre bosses are confident of sourcing the remaining money in time for the work to begin on schedule next summer.

Mr Blumenau said the money from the council should help with that process, unlocking extra channels of funding by showing confidence in the scheme at a local level.

“This news of the council grant is a significant boost and reflects the importance that the borough places on the theatre's contribution to the cultural and economic welfare of Bury,” he added.

“We realise that the council has difficult decisions to make when allocating grants to local projects and whilst this figure falls below the level of funding we were originally hoping for, we are pleased that a positive decision regarding our application has finally been reached.

“The support and confidence already expressed in this scheme by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Trust, the Arts Council, Suffolk County Council and other funding bodies has now been endorsed by our local borough council.

“Vitally, this decision gives the project added credibility in the eyes of other funding bodies from whom we are seeking financial assistance.”

The theatre is due to close in the summer of 2005 while the building project, estimated to take 18 months to complete, takes place.

Bosses said plans had been drawn up to ensure audiences will still be able to enjoy regular performances throughout the closure period, with events held at a number of venues across the borough.

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