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Claim and counter claim over future of King’s Lynn’s Guildhall of St George

The Guildhall of St George in King's Lynn. Picture: Chris Bishop

The Guildhall of St George in King's Lynn. Picture: Chris Bishop

Archant

Progress is being made behind the scenes at a historic guildhall, it was claimed today.

Inside the theatre, where Shakespeare is believed to have performed  Picture: SubmittedInside the theatre, where Shakespeare is believed to have performed Picture: Submitted

But fears remain over the future of the only surviving theatre where Shakespeare is known to have performed.

West Norfolk council, which leases the medieval Guildhall of St George, in King’s Lynn, says it is working with an un-named benefactor, who has offered to fund “a prestigious gallery” on the site. The benefactor is believed to be property developer Ray Assirati.

In a news release issued in response to “recent negative comment” regarding the possible loss of the Guildhall’s 200-seat theatre, it said: “A new charity has been established, which is now close to going public in terms of a structured consultation process to explain the vision, and delivery of this concept over a number of years.

“This will involve all interested groups, end users and the general public.

Queen Elizabeth at the guildhall prior to its restoration, in 1951  Picture: ArchantQueen Elizabeth at the guildhall prior to its restoration, in 1951 Picture: Archant

“The charity will benefit from a significant endowment specifically to provide financial stability and guarantee the conservation of these treasured buildings.”

The council adds “conspiracy theories” are circulating claiming part of the guildhall could be demolished and turned into flats.

“Nothing could be further from the truth and this is wholly misleading,” it said. “The charity’s objective is not to demolish but to repair, conserve and attract new uses for the buildings, including a commitment to King’s Lynn Festival and others to ensure performance art not only remains but flourishes.”

No more details of the charity - like its name and who has set it up - have been made public.

Arts lovers have formed the Shakespeare’s Guildhall Trust to campaign to save the theatre.

The Bard himself is believed to have trod the boards at the guildhall in 1592.

Trust spokesman Tim Fitzhigham said it would be meeting with the council and National Trust before publishing its vision for the guildhall in the New Year.

“My aim is really clear,” he said. “I feel that what is missing in the promotion of the guildhall in King’s Lynn is Shakespeare. That’s why we’re calling it Shakespeare’s Guildhall Trust, because King’s Lynn has got the only theatre which Shakespeare performed in.”

The building, on King Street, housed the King’s Lynn Arts Centre until it closed in early 2016. Since then its theatre has been let out as a hall for hire.

West Norfolk council applied for a £2.7m lottery grant to enlarge the theatre and modernise the galleries. But officials said the application was not sustainable.

No bookings are being taken after December 2019. Campaigners fear that this means the theatre will be lost when the complex is refurbished.

West Norfolk council said it was working with the charity. It said: “The charity is committed to seeking ways of improving flexibility of use, to repair and restore the guildhall, to increase public access and awareness and make the complex of buildings financially sustainable, in line with the best conservation principles”.

“In addition, the charity is also in discussion with the borough council to secure a site close to the historic quarter. The charity wants to construct a new, large, purpose-built museum and gallery complex, including exhibition space, restaurant, gift and art shop, for local residents and visitors to enjoy as part of the new vision and experience for the town centre.”

Elizabeth Nockolds, the council’s cabinet member for culture, heritage and health, said: “Our ongoing discussions with this benefactor have proved to be really positive. We are extremely excited about the proposals that are being developed and welcome the forthcoming consultation.

“Working in partnership with the charity that is being established will save the future of the complex while retaining its historic importance. This will enable the public to continue to enjoy the features of this complex into the future – something the council could not achieve alone.”

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