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Work beginning on new lottery bid for St George's Guildhall

A new bid is being drawn up to secure lottery funding to renovate Lynn’s historic St George’s Guildhall.

A draft document, which aims to set out a future vision for the King Street site, has been published ahead of a council committee debate on the issue next week.

And, although they stress the work is still at an early stage, officials from the campaign group set up to save the venue say they are encouraged by the progress being made.

The St George's Guildhall in King's Lynn (20049247)
The St George's Guildhall in King's Lynn (20049247)

Tim FitzHigham, of the Shakespeare’s Guildhall Trust (SGT), said: “It’s a very positive thing that the borough are working seriously towards a lottery bid, which is what we have wanted to see happen.”

The future of the Guildhall has been uncertain ever since a multi-million pound bid for Heritage Lottery funding to restore the site was turned down in March 2017.

Although plans to develop what borough council officials described as a gallery “of national and international significance” there were subsequently outlined, the SGT launched its own campaign to save the venuelast December.

They argued that almost 600 years of theatrical heritage at the site was at risk of being lost forever.

The latest paper, which is set to be debated by West Norfolk Council’s regeneration and development panel at a meeting on Tuesday evening, is a draft expression of interest in submitting a bid - the first stage of the process of applying for funding.

It says: “The project will restore the Guildhall of St George revealing its rich and surprising heritage.

“An associated programme of thematically focused and accessible cultural activities will engage the local community and visitors ensuring that this much-loved local asset has a sustainable future.”

It added: “A condition and structural survey of the Guildhall and associated buildings has identified an urgent need for conservation repairs.

“Current users of the Guildhall report the internal space to be inflexible, inaccessible and not able to meet modern performance needs.

“There is currently limited access to the Guildhall, sparse interpretation, and little public appreciation of its unique heritage.”

The document said work relating to the previous applications had been reviewed, while user groups and partner organisations had been “actively and positively consulted” on the new scheme.

It also suggests that a final expression of interest paper could be submitted as early as next month, with a full application next summer if lottery bosses respond positively.

No figures are given in the paper for how much any works could cost, although campaigners have suggested renovation could cost £4 million to £5 million.

But Mr FitzHigham believes the site’s history, as Britain’s oldest working theatre and the last surviving venue where Shakespeare himself performed, means the project has huge potential.

He said: “It’s taken an awful lot of work to move it forward. It’s a very big project that could be enormously transformative not just for Lynn but for the whole region. It’s important we try to get it right and we get all the stakeholders aligned.”

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