Two cultural venues celebrated after New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership awarded each of them grants of around £225,000 towards redevelopment projects.
News of the funding for the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich and St Peter’s in Sudbury came as a particularly welcome boost amid widespread concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on the cultural sector.
The grants totalling £451,000 will come from the Growing Places Fund, which has invested in other projects such as the National Centre for Writing in Norwich and Sutton Hoo and Gainsborough’s House in Suffolk.
Development plans at New Wolsey Theatre include a redesign of Theatre Square, the creation of a new community space, and the refurbishment of its front of house area. It represents a £2.85m investment in Ipswich and is expected to see an increase of visitors and participants to the venue by 14,500, taking it to 112,000 by 2022/23.
From a wider perspective, the regeneration represents a real opportunity to reconnect the communities and businesses of the Norwich Road corridor with Ipswich town centre.
Sarah Holmes, New Wolsey’s chief executive, said: “It’s amazing that with LEP support, through the Growing Places Fund, we can finally realise our long-held ambitions to develop theatre square and refurbish the theatre; we are absolutely delighted. This feels like auspicious timing as we approach our twentieth birthday next year.
“The LEP support will mean that our community participation work will – quite literally – be placed front and centre of all that we do. And we’ll have better facilities for everyone that visits the theatre – whether to see a show or to take part in our participation programmes.
“We’re extremely proud to be playing our part in cultural place-making in Ipswich; Creating A Scene is the first step in what we hope will be an ambitious and exciting transformation of the whole area. This has only been made possible by an exemplary partnership between Charterhouse PLC, Arts Council England, Ipswich Borough Council, Suffolk County Council, and now including the LEP with this wonderful commitment. This is such a great example of private and public sector resources being combined for the greater public good.”
St Peter’s plans include the reinstatement of a mezzanine gallery which will provide extra seating, space for meetings, exhibitions and educational projects. A new kitchen and café will meanwhile allow the venue to generate additional income from corporate events, weddings, heritage experiences and other bookings.
Babergh District Council has already approved a cash injection of £100,000, significantly helping St Peter’s towards its National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) match funding target of £500,000 by March 2020. If successful the overall project value, with National Lottery Heritage Fund support, will be in the region of £2.5m.
Commenting on the award, Peter Aiers, chief executive of The Churches Conservation Trust, said: “We’re thrilled to have received support from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership. Projects such as St Peter’s will revolutionise opportunities for people to take part in and experience the arts in Sudbury.
“St Peter’s will be a first-class cultural venue, places that will be needed all the more once we get through this uncertain period of coronavirus. We extend our huge thanks to the LEP for this award and express our gratitude to the Friends of St Peter’s and all those who have helped fund and support this project to date.”
Helen Wilson, chair of the LEP’s Cultural Board, said: “We very much appreciate the way in which the New Anglia LEP has recognised the role culture plays in the strength of our economy and in growing our communities, and we are absolutely delighted to see this investment in the New Wolsey and St Peter’s.
“Of course, this is a very difficult time for the cultural sector and financial support like this will help to put us in a stronger position, so we can play what will be a vital part in this region’s recovery when the time comes.
“Cultural organisations are at the heart of all our communities, improving the quality of all our lives and it is crucial they are still there once COVID-19 has subsided.”