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Art gallery plans threaten to close one of England’s oldest theatre spaces

King's Lynn Arts Centre
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One of England’s oldest working theatre spaces could close after December 2019 as a result of proposals to turn the arts centre it is part of into a gallery complex.

St George’s Guildhall – part of King’s Lynn Arts Centre in Norfolk – is known as England’s oldest and largest surviving medieval guildhall. The arts centre is owned by the National Trust and leased by the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk.

Local campaigners recently expressed concern over the future of the venue, where theatre has been performed since 1422, due to the venue showing “signs of deterioration”. The theatre has also been operating at a reduced level after the King’s Lynn Art Centre Trust, which ran the venue on behalf of the council, went bust in 2015.

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An anonymous philanthropist has come forward with proposals to revitalise the listed buildings and create a gallery of “national and international significance”.

The council said it had “received the proposals favourably” while a spokesman for Lynn Art Culture and Heritage, a campaign group working to secure a viable future for the Guildhall, has also welcomed the proposals.

The council has stopped taking bookings for the theatre from 2019, but has said it is “too early to say” whether the Guildhall will continue in its use as a theatre from then onwards.

Ivor Rowlands, of Lynn Art Culture and Heritage, said: “We are pleased that the borough council has managed to secure a viable future for the Guildhall that will see it continue to be a cultural asset for the town and the whole community, as it has been for hundreds of years.”

He added: “The council has effectively issued a notice of closure of the theatre from December 2019, but I remain hopeful of establishing a dialogue with the new custodian regarding plans for its future use.”

The council has said that talks with the National Trust and the Arts Council on the future of the theatre are “still at an early stage”.

Elizabeth Nockolds, cabinet member for culture, heritage and health, said: “This is a really exciting opportunity and we are keen to help in any way we can.

“The proposal that has been suggested could result in a nationally and internationally significant gallery being created in King’s Lynn that will not only secure the venue’s future, but also attract tourism into the town.”

She added that a reconfiguration of local theatre and comedy venue the Corn Exchange may accommodate events that might not be able to take place in the Guildhall in future.

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