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Promise to fulfil vision for St George’s Guildhall despite funding decision

St George’s Guildhall

Published: Wednesday, 28th September 2022

Published on behalf of Vision King's Lynn

The King’s Lynn Town Deal Board has confirmed that it is still full steam ahead for the St George’s Guildhall and Creative Hub project, despite disappointing news from the National Lottery Heritage Fund that a bid for £575k of development funding has been unsuccessful. The project seeks to revive and preserve Britain’s oldest working theatre and provide co-working creative spaces in the centre of King’s Lynn.

The St George’s Guildhall and Creative Hub is a Town Deal project which is being delivered on behalf of the Town Deal Board by a partnership comprising the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, and Norfolk Museums Service, in collaboration with the National Trust.

Michael Baldwin, Project Champion and Deputy Chair of the King’s Lynn Town Deal Board, said:

“Seeking funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund is a competitive process and routinely the number and scale of applications exceeds the funding that is available.We felt that we presented a strong but very ambitious bid.”

The National Lottery Heritage Fund committee noted the importance of the heritage and the historic links of St George’s Guildhall and Theatre to the story of the town, and the aims of the proposals to restore the historic complex of buildings into fuller use. The support from the National Trust and Norfolk Museums service was also noted.

Michael Baldwin continued:

“Although, we’re disappointed that the funders did not feel able to support us at this time, we’re heartened by the progress that’s been made. We’re still in a position where we can move our plans forward to sensitively protect and celebrate the heritage of these unique buildings, securing their long-term and sustainable future for the local community to enjoy.”

Newly-appointed Senior Project Manager Mike Auger explained:

“The project already has a budget of nearly £9m, with just over £8m from the Government’s Towns Fund and a further £750k from the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk’s capital funds. The lottery bid was a stage 1 bid for development funding of just under £600k, which if successful would have led to a stage 2 bid with a total ask of £3.3m. This funding gap was underwritten by the borough council, so progress on the project will continue as planned, as we continue to explore other sources of funding.”

A new Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), that will ultimately manage the site, is being established. This organisation will be able to explore alternative funding sources available to charities in the arts sector. With a delivery schedule of 3 years for the Town Deal funds, there is time to apply for and secure additional funding which will reduce the level of underwriting required by the council. A further bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund has not been ruled out.

Graham Purkins, Chair of the King’s Lynn Town Deal Board, said:

“This project is the priority project within our Towns Fund programme. We are committed to the vision that we have developed following consultation with a wide range of experts and user groups. This is disappointing news but is by no means a game changer. It is not unusual for projects of this size and nature to have challenges and we will adapt using the funding we already have in place. Our next focus will be on getting the CIO established which will open up access to future funding streams.”

Cllr Graham Middleton, Deputy Leader of the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk, Cabinet Member for Business, Culture and Heritage, and representative on the Town Deal Board, added:

“The Town Deal Board, the project partners and this council remain committed to the delivery of this vision for one of the town’s cultural and historic gems.  We have already secured the lion’s share of funding for this project, and with the support of the National Trust and the Norfolk Museums Service will press ahead with the proposals.”

The Guildhall project is a pivotal part of the £25m Town Fund programme, which will transform the town centre with a number of innovative schemes aimed at growing business, increasing skills and regenerating heritage assets. Collectively these projects will strengthen the local economy and secure the town’s future as a vibrant place to live, work and visit.

The Grade 1 listed St George’s Guildhall is Britain’s oldest working theatre, with performances since 1445. Recent academic research supports local tradition that Shakespeare performed at the Guildhall in 1593 and Shakespeare’s comedian Robert Armin was born in King’s Lynn. The vision incorporates a day-time immersive visitor experience that promotes this Shakespearean connection, taking visitors through theatrical history in the only still-working theatre where it all took place. Interpretation within and around the site will take visitors through the rich and diverse heritage of the Guildhall and its associated buildings and reveal their stories. The plans also include programmes for performance and exhibitions, outreach and educational activities, children’s activities, and a mix of daytime and night-time activities, along with free and ticketed attractions.

The plans, which have been developed through extensive consultation with the public, specialists, and users, set out how the theatre and surrounding site will be renovated into a welcoming and accessible space, and how a new hub for creative businesses will be provided.

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