Major funding boost heralds new chapter for Dragon Hall

Chris Gribble, chief executive of Writers' Centre Norwich.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Chris Gribble, chief executive of Writers' Centre Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The new year marks a new chapter for Writers' Centre Norwich as plans for the historic Dragon Hall to become the National Centre for Writing get under way.

An artist's impression of the plans for the new National Centre for Writing at Dragon Hall in Norwic

An artist's impression of the plans for the new National Centre for Writing at Dragon Hall in Norwich. Image: supplied by Writers' Centre Norwich. - Credit: supplied by Writers' Centre Norwich

Just before Christmas the project received a £789,434 grant from Arts Council England, one of the final pieces of the funding jigsaw which effectively gave the green light for work to start on the ambitious £1.76m venture which will firmly put Norwich on the world stage for literature.

'It's all part of our aim to really put Norwich on the map as England's first UNESCO City of Literature and give people a real physical sense of the literary heritage of the city and county in this absolutely amazing building,' said Chris Gribble, Writers' Centre Norwich chief executive.

'It's been a good few years in the making but we are really delighted to be at the finishing line of getting the money raised.

'We still have about £110,000 to raise but we have still got another six months to do that. The announcement of the Arts Council secured funding means we can make a start and go ahead because we have got more than 90pc of what we need.'

Chris Gribble, chief executive of Writers' Centre Norwich.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Chris Gribble, chief executive of Writers' Centre Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant


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Mr Gribble said the Writers' Centre Norwich team was now working with the project's architects and partners and would shortly be going out to tender to local builders. The plan is to break ground on the building work this spring and that the whole building project should be finished by spring 2018.

Mr Gribble said: 'We are doing four things with the buildings here at Dragon Hall in order to transform it into a National Centre for Writing.

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'We are building a new extension on the south wing and that will be a fantastic space for education, for schools and communities to come and use that space on the ground floor. Our offices will be on the first floor and there will be a new entrance way to the building and a new disabled access.

'The second thing is we are refurbishing the cottage and that will be a house for writers and translators so we will be able to invite people from all around the world to come and live and work with the people of Norwich and Norfolk for up to three months at a time.

'The third thing is we are going to renovate and update all the IT and the facilities upstairs here in the great hall and the small hall. Finally we are renovating the spaces downstairs in the basement and the old office space so there will be more spaces for writers and for adult education classes and community groups.'

He said the hope was the finished centre would fly the flag for Norwich on the international stage, aiming to attract writers and cultural tourists from around the world to visit the city, and that it would also offer lots of opportunities for people living in Norfolk.

'Our fantastic heritage volunteers will be carrying on giving heritage tours. We will be open for many more days and for many more events here. There will be festivals here, there will be events as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and our Noirwich Crime Writing Festival.

'There will be community events, you will be able to hire the space for parties and probably weddings as well, and there will be all sorts of education programmes for young people and communities, so there will be lots of ways to get involved.'

By building relationships with individuals and organisations across the world and closer to home, Mr Gribble said the National Centre for Writing was in a way taking Dragon Hall back to its trading hall roots.

'[In the days of Dragon Hall's founder Robert Toppes] This was one of the major centres of commerical exchange in the second biggest city in the country and we want to turn it into a place of cultural exchange for the country's first UNESCO City of Literature in the 21st century, to build a new chapter of its history, and to have stories and people's experiences being what is being exchanged,' Mr Gribble said.

OTHER EXCITING PROJECTS

Writers' Centre Norwich is also awaiting news later this month on funding for two other exciting projects.

One of these is a partnership with Norwich BID (Business Improvement District) which is looking at how the city's UNESCO City of Literature status can be used to boost tourism and business.

Mr Gribble said: 'We will be looking at partnerships and public art and tourism trails and all sorts of things, working with hotels and businesses in the city and the county...We want to be able to spread the impact of the UNESCO City of Literature accreditation as widely as possible. There are cities like Edinburgh who have done a really good job of tourism trails, and Dublin as well, so we want to make sure that we are not missing a trick.'

He added: 'Hopefully we will be able to do one of the trails next summer and then in 2018 when we launch [the National Centre for Writing] we hope to do a couple more then as well.'

Another new project centres on literature and young people.

Mr Gribble said: 'We are working with young people across Norwich and Norfolk on a project with Kraków and Barcelona and that will be around live literature and performance. We are just waiting to hear if we have got the funding for that.'

DRAGON HALL HISTORY

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.

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 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.

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