An award-winning theatre in a tiny Norfolk village has launched a £1.5m fundraising drive to secure its future with a new arts complex.

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Westacre Theatre, near Swaffham, hopes the community will pitch in and help to fund the eco-friendly building, which will replace the tent currently used for summer productions.

The project has already attracted nearly £400,000 in donations and investment and won the backing of actor Stephen Fry, who has a home nearby.

Designed to fit comfortably into its rural surroundings, the new “super shed” will house a gallery, bar, catering and conference facilities as well as the new 150-seat theatre.

Eco-friendly materials and methods will be used, including straw bale lime-rendered walls, and the complex will be built next to the theatre’s existing studio in River Road.

A lagoon with a reedbed area is to be developed in a neighbouring meadow to process waste water while providing a natural wildlife habitat.

In a message of support, Mr Fry said: “I am really thrilled at the prospect of seeing current plans for a permanent home for Westacre Theatre come to fruition. It promises to be an even more remarkable forum for the arts in Norfolk.”

The theatre began life more than 20 years ago with occasional performances in the garden of Abbey House, in West Acre, and now runs two sites on the Westacre Estate.

The first, a 75-seat studio in River Road, is used mainly in the Spring and Autumn and its lease is not due to expire until 2050.

But the estate does not intend to renew the lease on the second - a 150-seat octagonal theatre tent in Westacre Abbey barn courtyard - when it expires in 2020.

The theatre hopes to further develop the River Road site and link the two buildings.

Chairman of the Westacre Arts Foundation, Clive Hadfield, said: “At a time of funding cuts and national economic constraints, the county’s residents have an unique opportunity to defy the trend and help develop an impressive arts complex in the heart of Norfolk designed to provide wide access to high quality drama, music, exhibitions, education courses and young people’s projects.

“This is a really important development for us that will secure the future of the theatre and allow us to do even more for the community. The funding we are seeking, together with your donations, will help provide a unique legacy for future generations.”

Donations can be made directly to the theatre or through its “Buy a Bale Scheme”.

Supporters are being invited to buy a straw bale for £50 and have their names included in a roll of honour which will be permanently displayed at the new venue.

For further information, email fundraising co-ordinator Anne Mason at admin@westacretheatre.com or call 01760 755007.

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