Tim FitzHigham appointed as Interim Creative Director and FEI appointed as consultants
ST GEORGE’S GUILDHALL AND CREATIVE HUB
Town Investment Plan theme: Innovative, Growing Business and Skilled Workforce
This project is focused on preserving the past, embracing the arts, and building a future.
A partnership led by the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk is working with stakeholders and the community to safeguard the future of the oldest working theatre in the UK.
Exciting plans for St George’s Guildhall and a new Creative Hub have 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.
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
- reimagining 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.
Further details are available from the News section.
October - December 2021:
Stakeholder engagement sessions taken place to shape the future of the St George’s Guildhall site
St George’s Guildhall and Creative Hub vision will be unveiled
St Georges Guildhall and Creative Hub plans unveiled in a clear vision for the future. See more here.
Business case signed off by the King’s Lynn Town Deal Board in June and submitted to Government as part of the £25m Town Fund programme.
What will be at the Guildhall centre?
The St George’s Guildhall and Creative Hub project will create a nationally important cultural heritage site at the heart of Kings Lynn’s arts and culture scene. It will be a welcoming, flexible, and accessible place for arts, culture, and enterprise, offering a diverse and expanded programme of experiences and opportunities. It will be an inclusive place for all, and it will serve the local community and act as a beacon for visitors from further afield.
It will include the following spaces:
• The redeveloped Guildhall as an Elizabethan theatre and a flexible multipurpose performance space, to enable traditional and modern performances, film and live music,
• The Gunpowder Room (a reimagining of the undercroft currently known as Crofters) as a second performance space,
• The Fermoy Gallery,
• A creative hub will be created in the former White Barn and White Barn annex with a series of rental spaces for artists and makers.
It will offer:
• Ticketed and free heritage experiences celebrating the history of the site,
• An exciting new cultural programme that will consist of performing, digital, musical, and visual arts,
• Spaces for hire for private events,
• Engaging education and outreach activities,
• Skills, business support and development opportunities,
• Facilities for visitors to eat, drink, and shop.
How will you make sure this is a place for everyone?
We have carried out extensive engagement over the last few months with key stakeholders and members of the local community to understand what people need from the site to make it inclusive for all and we have come up with a comprehensive offer that we believe will appeal to everyone.
We have listened to our consultees and the proposals reflect their views and a real wish to get the very best for King’s Lynn and West Norfolk.
We want to make the site accessible, and improve how people can move round it, and we’re also offering a variety of activities, both ticketed and free.
Who is leading the project?
The Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, The National Trust and Norfolk Museums Service are working in partnership with the Town Deal Board to lead this project.
In June 2021, it was announced by the government that King’s Lynn had been allocated £25M in Town Deal funding.
The submission for the funding included the St George’s Guildhall and Creative Hub project, which has provided the opportunity for this project to take place.
Has the business case been submitted?
No, we will be submitting the business case in June.
When will we find out if the money has been released?
Soon after the submission of our business case.
Will there still be performances and cinema at the theatre for the time being?
All shows that are currently booked in 2022 will be going ahead so come and enjoy them! We are working hard with the architects and construction planning.
At the moment we believe shows in 2023 will also be uninterrupted. It’s an exciting time for the Guildhall – get involved.
When will productions have to stop for the building work? And might they go elsewhere?
A decision on whether it will be phased work or full closure is yet to be made and will be based on the best advice at the time for the work required.
When will the building work be completed?
If recent times have taught us anything it’s that the unexpected can happen – but we are currently on track to have the project delivered and up and running in 2026.
We are all working hard to achieve this.
Will existing user groups be able to use it when it is completed?
Yes, we are working with existing user groups to ensure that they will still be able to use the site and that it better meets their needs.
They are a vital heartbeat of the Guildhall and Fermoy and will do all we can to continue that.
It’s great for an entertainment venue that it already has so many existing groups who want to use it, we’re listening to them and want to make using it an even better experience for them.
Why is the National Trust involved?
The National Trust is a conservation charity whose stated mission is to provide access to nature, beauty and history for everyone, forever.
They are the owners of the Guildhall and many other buildings on the site, which are then leased to the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk.
The National Trust are one of the world’s leading providers of heritage conservation and experience and they’re using their skills and knowledge to support the project team to deliver this shared vision, which will safeguard the heritage of this site and provide access to new and diverse audiences.
What is a Guildhall and why does King’s Lynn have two?
Guilds were like clubs. Imagine a football club, after school club or the Women’s Institute. Except they had a lot more power: more like a Premier League club; they had staff, land, trophies and a pension scheme.
The bigger Guilds ran the local towns in which they sat. King’s Lynn had several Guilds and several Guildhalls, there are only two remaining. The smaller Guilds would pay to rent the halls from the larger Guilds.
During the times when Guilds were important, King’s Lynn, or as it was known then Bishop’s Lynn had over 80 Guilds. Unlike most other places in the country where Guilds were divided by what job people did, in King’s Lynn they were divided by what Saint or Holy person you preferred.
It’s also worth saying that unlike many of the Guilds, St George’s Guild was open to men and women equally right from the start (quite enlightened for the time).
How can people have their say?
Over the last few months, the Interim Project Director Tim FitzHigham and the project consultants FEI have been carrying out extensive engagement with users and potential users and representatives of arts, cultural, and creative organisations. This engagement has helped to shape the plan that has been developed for the site.
We love to hear from you and the plan we have put forward is exciting. We will be offering many opportunities over the coming years for people to have their say – not least when they visit the Guildhall site which we hope many of you will.
How can people find out more about the project?
People can find out more about the project on the Vision King’s Lynn website and via the Vision King’s Lynn social media channels.
Feedback to start once first phase of the project is underway.