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Rural arts centre to reopen

PUBLISHED: 09:58 22 December 2008 | UPDATED: 10:50 12 July 2010

A rural arts centre which closed three years ago is set to reopen and begin a new era.

Wingfield Barns, in the village of Wingfield, near Eye, was formerly the home of a prestigious arts and music festival which had been established in an adjacent country house in the 1970s.

A rural arts centre which closed three years ago is set to reopen and begin a new era.

Wingfield Barns, in the village of Wingfield, near Eye, was formerly the home of a prestigious arts and music festival which had been established in an adjacent country house in the 1970s.

The barns, one of them Grade II-listed and dating back to 1537, were converted in the 1990s at a cost of £1.4million - £750,000 coming in the form of a Heritage Lottery Grant and £400,000 from the European Union.

This was the heyday of Wingfield Arts and Music which had grown to have an annual turnover of £500,000 and to feature concerts at more than 20 venues, including Framlingham Castle where audiences of well over 1,000 attended open-air music events.

However, difficulties in attracting funding for routine running costs led to the Wingfield centre's demise and its closure in 2005.

For a period the complex of barns was put on the open market but no buyer came forward - possibly discouraged by a restrictive planning permission requiring the buildings to be available for public use.

The barns have now been saved as a community facility by the intervention of Mid Suffolk District Council. As a result of talks with Arts Council East the local authority has taken over ownership of the property and plans are well advanced for a new arts programme, starting in April 2009.

It will feature drama and dance as well as the art exhibitions and music concerts which dominated the annual programme of the former festival.

An annual exhibition of sixth form art from Suffolk schools - featured in the former festival's last years - will also return with the help of county arts adviser, Tim Wilson.

The district council is to fund £150,000 work on the buildings, which have stood empty for more than three years.

Geoff Doggett, one of the main figures instrumental in the site's turnaround and now the general manager, said: “A lot of us feel very passionate about this project and about making these buildings more available to the wider community, by extending the programme to include all the arts.”

Mr Doggett, who has produced a business plan for the future of the barns, said the potential was tremendous. “We are within 20 minutes driving distance of a population of 63,000.”

“We are near a pub - the De La Pole Arms - and an ancient parish church and the new owners of Wingfield College occasionally have open days so there are plenty of things for people to come here for,” he said.

Richard Thurlow, head of cultural and community services for Mid Suffolk council, said: “The future of Wingfield Barns is looking very bright indeed.”

Further information can be obtained from Mr Doggett at Wingfield barns, tel. 01379 384505, or by logging on to the website: www.wingfieldbarns.com

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