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New chapter for Dragon Hall as building work to begin on National Centre for Writing

PUBLISHED: 08:12 09 October 2017 | UPDATED: 17:01 11 October 2017

Chris Gribble, CEO of the National Centre for Writing, pictured at Dragon Hall in Norwich which is under development.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Chris Gribble, CEO of the National Centre for Writing, pictured at Dragon Hall in Norwich which is under development. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

The page is set to be turned onto an ambitious new chapter for Norwich’s historic Dragon Hall as building work begins on the National Centre for Writing.

An artist's impression of the National Centre For Writing at Dragon Hall in Norwich.
Image: Derek Jackson An artist's impression of the National Centre For Writing at Dragon Hall in Norwich. Image: Derek Jackson

Writers’ Centre Norwich, which has been based at Dragon Hall since 2015, will this week host a breaking ground ceremony to herald the formal beginning of the construction phase of the £1.86m project.

Chris Gribble, chief executive of Writers’ Centre Norwich, said it was an exciting moment for the project which will further shine a spotlight on Norwich’s national and international standing as a UNESCO City of Literature.

“One of the main reasons we are doing this is to provide a physical sign of Norwich’s UNESCO City of Literature status. At its heart it is a place for the city and for writers and translators to engage with the very best work and the interesting stuff that is happening all around the world. It is a point of exchange for Norwich as an international city,” he said.

The building work, which is expected to be completed by late May 2018, will include the creation of a new south wing to Dragon Hall to house an education space for writing and storytelling events for schools and young people as well as offices. There will be improvements made to the Great Hall to enable it to be used as a multipurpose cultural venue and also a refurbishment of the on-site cottage which will host visiting writers-in-residence.

An artist's impression of the National Centre For Writing at Dragon Hall in Norwich.
Image: Derek Jackson An artist's impression of the National Centre For Writing at Dragon Hall in Norwich. Image: Derek Jackson

Mr Gribble said: “We are basically going to be a space for experimentation and innovation for writers and translators but also a place where anyone who lives in, works or visits Norwich and Norfolk can come and take part in outstanding activities that tell you about our heritage and our very exciting present literary life. Norwich is a really special city.”

He said the project was also about providing a “really brilliant new life for this amazing building, a set of new stories.”

“The city loves Dragon Hall and we want to bring it back really into a really civic space,” he said, adding they were also exploring the potential return of events such a beer festival and Christmas fairs.

The building work is being carried out by Norwich-based John Youngs, part of the RG Carter group, working to the plans of Norfolk architects Lucas Hickman Smith. More than 90pc of the funding is now in place for the project, with key funders including Arts Council England, Foyle Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, Geoffrey Watling Charity and Norwich Town Close Estate Charity.

The National Centre for Writing at Dragon Hall in Norwich which is under development.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY The National Centre for Writing at Dragon Hall in Norwich which is under development. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Dragon Hall’s past and present

Dragon Hall was a medieval trading hall that is today a Grade I-listed building.

The historic building as we know it today – with its medieval first floor hall – was the creation of 15th century merchant Robert Toppes. After his death the building was divided up and the true nature of the hall was hidden until the 1970s, with partition walls and an extra floor concealing the dragon carving which gives the building its name.

The National Centre for Writing at Dragon Hall in Norwich which is under development.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY The National Centre for Writing at Dragon Hall in Norwich which is under development. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The city council bought the building in 1979 and, in 1987, the Norfolk and Norwich Heritage Trust was formed to help restore it. The trust looked after the building for 25 years before it became home to Writers’ Centre Norwich. As building work now begins on transforming Dragon Hall into the National Centre for Writing, people can follow the construction progress online at www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk and by following #TheNextChapter @WritersCentre on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The National Centre for Writing is expected to officially open in late June 2018.

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