Stowmarket: Historic house’s �2.8m revamp

STOWMARKET: Work to restore an 18th-century country house is set to begin within weeks after funding was secured in the form of a council loan, it emerged today.

The �2.8million restoration of Abbot’s Hall, a Queen Anne house set within the 75-acre Museum of East Anglian Life (MEAL) site, is on schedule.

It is due to start in the next couple of weeks thanks to loans worth a combined �250,000 from Mid Suffolk District Council and Suffolk County Council. Work is expected to finish in time for the Olympic Games and Queen’s diamond jubilee next year.

It will include the construction of a nine-room exhibition centre, a working walled garden and the restoration of two derelict cottages.

This main building is to be fully renovated, complete with new museum and exhibition spaces, with the surrounding cottage buildings restored as examples of rural workers dwellings.

Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) money made up 69 per cent of the �2.8m figure needed to restore Abbot’s Hall – one of 15 historic buildings at the museum. Further grants have come from a range of trusts and foundations, and from private donations.

The remaining balance will be lent to the museum by Mid Suffolk District Council, which will provide �50,000, with Suffolk County Council contributing �200,000. MEAL has several other grant applications already in place and aims to repay the money within a few years.

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Director Tony Butler said: “We asked the councils to be lenders of last resort. Rather than give us the money as a grant, it acts as a loan to underwrite the project, meaning all the funding is now in place at no expense to the taxpayer.

“Local firms will be involved in the construction and the total level of public funding comes to less than 10pc.”

Mr Butler and his team hope the development will turn the Abbot’s Hall complex into a centrepiece for the museum. It comes after almost two years of consultation.

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