The vision for the St George’s Guildhall and Creative Hub moved a step forward with the submission of the business case to government.
The 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 historical features. 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.
Designs detailing how the auditorium could function for Elizabethan-style theatre, whilst embracing modern features to allow for flexibility and access, have been developed by Foster Wilson Size – a leading architectural practice with an international reputation for the design of cultural buildings and creative spaces. The scheme takes in additional spaces from road to river, highlighting the potential to maximise the number of visitors to this unique heritage location.
The business case has been developed with input from FEI UK whose directors and associates have developed and managed some of the UK’s leading venues and organisations including London’s Barbican and Southbank Centres, Brighton Dome, the London Olympics and Edinburgh Festivals, and Mott MacDonald, a global organisation, with a local base, who have a track record of creating world-class venues, including the Natural History Museum and Greenwich National Maritime Museum, London.
These proposals form the basis of this £12m project, for which a business case requesting just over £8m of government funding has been signed off by the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk (the accountable body) and the King’s Lynn Town Deal Board. The business case has now been submitted to Government as part of the £25m Town Fund programme, making this the third project within the programme to be submitted. The Youth and Retraining Pledge and the Rail to River Public Realm programmes have already been submitted and received their funding.
The St George’s Guildhall and Creative Hub project is being delivered by a partnership comprising the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, and Norfolk Museums Service, in collaboration with the National Trust.
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.
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.
Michael Baldwin, Deputy Chair of the King’s Lynn Town Deal Board and champion for this project, said: “We are grateful to everyone who has been involved in developing these plans and business case, and are delighted that they have now been submitted to the Government. We are confident that this is a strong scheme, that has input from some of the most highly-regarded experts in the industry as well as local insight, and we look forward to receiving confirmation of the funding from Government so that we can get on with making this vision a reality.”
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 another major milestone. The Project Team have done a great job of engaging diverse partners and passionate community stakeholders to establish our shared ambition. This project will transform the site from a hugely significant yet underused location into a thriving creative and cultural centre right in the heart of King’s 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, making this a very strong business case.
“I am particularly proud of the educational opportunities that will abound within the space and the range of business opportunities for many start-ups in creative industries that will become available.”
Tim FitzHigham, Interim Creative Director, said: “The St George’s Guildhall and Creative Hub is a fantastic jewel in Lynn’s rich heritage crown. It is the only venue in the world, still working, that has all phases of dramatic history in it. This is our opportunity to unleash its full potential for the benefit of all. The team have done an incredible job putting together a really robust business case.”
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,
- opening up the Ferry Lane side of the site near the ferry landing stage so that people can walk through the site
- creating a new food and beverage offer
- 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 will 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.