Much Ado about Guildhall as new campaign group claims historic King's Lynn theatre is at risk
Almost 600 years of theatrical tradition in Lynn is at risk of being lost forever, a new campaign group has claimed.
The organisation, which calls itself the Shakespeare’s Guildhall Trust, says it is working on alternative proposals for the future of the St George’s Guildhall complex.
And it is appealing for the public’s backing, ahead of planned talks with the site’s owners, the National Trust, early in the new year.
The future of the King Street site has been in question ever since a multi-million pound bid for Heritage Lottery funding to renovate it was turned down in March 2017.
Earlier this year, West Norfolk Council, to whom the site is currently leased, revealed that an anonymous backer had come forward with proposals to revive the buildings and create a gallery of “national and international significance.”
But the Shakespeare group says it fears the venue, the oldest theatre in Britain whose first recorded theatrical performance was in 1442, during the reign of King Henry VI, could close very soon unless a rescue plan can be drawn up.
And it has criticised the lack of reference to Shakespeare, whom some researchers believe trod the boards himself there, as an “astonishing missed opportunity” for the town to promote itself to both national and international visitors.
Lynn-born actor Tim FitzHigham, who is a spokesman for the group, said: “The Guildhall of St George has the most important theatre heritage in the country and if people don’t know that, we need to tell them.
“It simply must be kept open as a theatre for all and this trust will ensure that.
“ We must not be the generation of King’s Lynn people that let down the 600 years of people that have enjoyed this theatre and kept it open before us.”
The group, who raised questions about the current status of the venue during a recent council meeting, says it wants to work with all interested parties to revitalise the centre as a high quality venue for arts, theatre and entertainment, as well as expanding provision for youth and school-based programmes.
Officials say they expect a major fundraising campaign would be needed to fund the project, which they estimate could cost between £4 million and £5 million to complete.
But they believe they can attract significant financial backing and claim to have the support of a host of leading figures from the arts and entertainment industry.
A National Trust spokesman said: “We are meeting with the council to continue preliminary discussions about the future of the building.
“It’s very early days in these discussions and no plans have yet been finalised. We remain committed to working with the local community in looking to the future of the Guildhall.
“We would expect any future plans to be sensitive to current users of the Guildhall.
“We have already had contact with the Shakespeare’s Guildhall Trust and have plans to hold a first meeting in the new year.”
Anyone who is interested in supporting the group is asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org.