Stephen Fry backs new vision to restore historic guildhall

St George's Guildhall at King's Lynn. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Guildhall of St George is believed to be the only surviving theatre where Shakespeare performed - Credit: Denise Bradley

Stephen Fry is backing a new vision to conserve the only surviving theatre where Shakespeare performed.

Money to restore the Guildhall of St George, in King's Lynn, was included in a £21m bid to the government's Future High Streets Fund by West Norfolk council last year

But the proposals were turned down. It comes after bids for lottery funding for the 15th Century building were also turned down in 2017 and  2019.

Now the Shakespeare's Guildhall Trust has published its own proposals for the future of the landmark, which stretches from King Street to the Great Ouse waterfront and includes a theatre where Shakespeare is believe to have trod the boards in 1591.

Its ideas have been endorsed by Norfolk broadcaster and actor Mr Fry, who grew up in Norfolk.

Stephen Fry has appealed for people to be kind to each other during the coronavirus outbreak Pictur

Stephen Fry has appealed for people to be kind to each other during the coronavirus outbreak Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Archant

In a foreword to the trust's newly-published Our Vision, he writes: "Shakespeare’s Guildhall Trust comprises a group of concerned local people with many years professional experience in arts, heritage, entertainment, education, and business management.

"This brochure showcases SGT’s vision to create a viable operation of the entire site – from road to river – including food & beverage and a retail component, together with galleries, studios, education areas and office space for local arts and cultural groups.

"This is a vital step towards ensuring we keep this incredible theatre working. I have many fond memories of the Guildhall and I hope to create many more in the future."

The trust's vision includes using the entire Guildhall complex including performance and rehearsal space, areas for workshops and education, a restaurant, café and bars, along with heritage interpretation.

Ivor Rowlands outside the Guildhall. Picture: Chris Bishop

Ivor Rowlands outside the Guildhall of St George in King's Lynn - Credit: Chris Bishop

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Its chair Ivor Rowlands said:  "St George’s Guildhall in King’s Lynn is a nationally important heritage site that is at risk of decay and disuse. SGT has a vision to transform the Guildhall and provide a sustainable future for the benefit of the community."

While it needs £6m to make its vision a reality, which it would hope to raise from grants and donations, the trust says council forecasts predict the building could bring in £50m a year - provided the complex is run as a single, unified entity.

The council plans to include the Guildhall in a  bid it is drawing up for funding from the government's £4bn levelling up fund.

Until 2016, it housed the King's Lynn Arts Centre. Since then, it has been operated as a hall for hire.

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