Council urged to preserve theatre in King’s Lynn Arts Centre revamp

Heritage Open Day and Cassic Car Show in King's Lynn. Consultation on Arts Centre renovation plans. ANL-161209-102624009
Heritage Open Day and Cassic Car Show in King's Lynn. Consultation on Arts Centre renovation plans. ANL-161209-102624009
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More needs to be done to ensure an historic Lynn theatre can still be used by local arts groups if a Lottery bid to redevelop the site succeeds, two senior figures have warned.

Three potential options for the future of the Lynn Arts Centre were revealed during a public consultation event at the King Street site on Sunday.

Arts officials have also held talks with West Norfolk Council officials about the issue.

But, while the authority insists there is no preferred option for the site, some drama group leaders say they are worried about the potential financial implications for their work.

Amanda Arterton, vice-president of the West Norfolk Gilbert and Sullivan Society, said: “It needs to be a centre for the whole community, but all of the plans would stop that from happening.”

The council aims to develop a bid for £2.25 million of Heritage Lottery funding to redevelop the complex.

One option would see the capacity of the St George’s Guildhall theatre reduced to around 250 seats, from 350, though part of the current tiered seating would be retained.

A second option, inspired by a Georgian theatre model, would reduce performance capacity to around 150 and see the existing stage replaced with a temporary structure.

A new viewing gallery and first floor bar would also be created and the Guildhall would become accessible for wheelchair users.

The third proposal, which is seen as the most flexible, contains plans for a new glass walkway, offering access to the Guildhall, as well as a flat floor space allowing temporary staging and seating for 200 people for shows.

Officials say that would allow for the restoration of the Medieval hall, as well as enabling the widest possible range of events to take place there.

A meeting between council leaders and arts representatives was held at the authority’s headquarters on Tuesday evening.

Elizabeth Nockolds, cabinet member for culture, heritage and health, said there had been a “full discussion” of the issue.

She said: “No preferred option was indicated but useful feedback was received. We will also be holding a further meeting with representatives from each of the main user groups to discuss in more detail.

“All the feedback we receive will help with the development of a first stage Heritage Lottery Fund bid.”

But Mrs Arterton said there was “a lot of anger” in the meeting about how the issue had been handled so far.

She also argued the success of the Princess Theatre in Hunstanton showed venues of that size could be viable if they were properly marketed.

King’s Lynn Festival chairman Alison Croose said she welcomed the prospect of new investment into the centre, but was worried by the possibility of losing the existing stage and seating arrangements.

She was also concerned about the balance between bringing high-profile performers to the festival and keeping ticket prices as low as possible with a reduced capacity.

But she added: “The most important thing for all of us is it should continue to be available for concerts and amateur theatre.

“We recognise the council haven’t got the money to do it and, if they can get £2 million grant, that’s great.

“But we still would like it to be used in its traditional form primarily, as a theatre.”