Exciting plans for St George’s Guildhall and a new Creative Hub have this week been unveiled by the King’s Lynn Town Deal Board.
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 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.
The plans demonstrate how 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.
These proposals form the basis of the business case that, once signed off by the King’s Lynn Town Deal Board in June, will be submitted to Government as part of the £25m Town Fund programme.
Michael Baldwin, Deputy Chair of the King’s Lynn Town Deal Board and champion for this project, said: “This has been an incredible project in which to be involved. I can’t thank enough the people who have contributed to these proposals. The history about the site that we will be able to share with visitors is phenomenal, and the range and diversity of what will be on offer will make this cultural centre, something we can all be proud of, right in the heart of the town centre.
“There is much work to be done, with getting the business case through to Government to secure the funding from the Towns Fund. What is clear though, is how this project could become a national attraction, bringing additional footfall not just to the centre but to the town and borough as a whole. It will also offer business opportunities – for makers, creators and caterers, as well as vital space for fledgling creative businesses.”
The proposals set out how maximum use can be made of the whole site, and include:
- refurbishment and development of the theatre to provide a flexible space – developing a creative hub in the former white barn
- opening up the Ferry Lane side of the site near the ferry landing stage so that people can walk through the site
- creating a catering experience in the Shakespeare Barn, with mezzanine floor
- improving the Fermoy Gallery so that a wider range of exhibitions can be shown
- re-imagining the undercroft (currently Crofters) to provide an additional performance space
- developing options for mobile food trucks, street food, pop ups and outdoor performances in the courtyard
- opening up unused parts of the site to be included in the heritage experience
The auditorium would be refurbished to enable a variety of flexible uses. It will form part of the heritage experience and will include interpretation and virtual reality and other immersive experiences. The renovation work would create a space that works for Elizabethan plays, as well as music concerts, or modern plays, in-the-round productions, or flat floor events such as markets or weddings. It will embrace elements of its performance history through the years.
Russell Clement, General Manager for the National Trust which owns St Georges Guildhall and lease it to the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk, said; “I’m delighted that we’ve hit this milestone, where we’re able to share progress on plans for the St George’s Guildhall site. So much planning needs to happen behind the scenes to deliver a project of this scope, we’re still at the tip of the iceberg but the vision is clear, and the Project Team have done a great job of engaging diverse partners and passionate community stakeholders to establish our shared ambition. The project will transform the site from a hugely significant yet underused location into a thriving creative and cultural centre right in the heart of Kings Lynn, championing Lynn’s valuable cultural heritage, serving our communities, engaging diverse audiences, enabling academic research and attracting tourism to the town.”
Cllr Graham Middleton, Deputy Leader of the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk, and Cabinet Member for Business, Culture and Heritage, added: “I think that the proposals and the vision that have been developed encapsulate all the things that people have said they want from the site, as well as things that will help ensure that the site is financially sustainable into the future.
“The proposed mix of free and paid-for activities, the daytime and night-time uses, the balance between programmed activities and space for hire, all make this a very exciting and vibrant proposal. Educational opportunities abound and the space also brings a range of business opportunities for many start-ups in creative industries.”
Tim FitzHigham, Interim Creative Director, said: “It is the only venue in the world, still working, that has all phases of dramatic history in it. We want people all over the world to know that they can come to Lynn to enjoy this fantastic jewel in Lynn’s rich heritage crown. This is our opportunity to unleash its full potential for the benefit of all.”