Wolsey £700k revamp gets go-ahead

DELIGHTED theatre bosses are celebrating today after learning they have been given the go ahead to completely transform the look of an Ipswich venue.After two years of preparation, plans to overhaul the New Wolsey theatre have been approved and the large scale refurbishment will get underway on Monday.

DELIGHTED theatre bosses are celebrating today after learning they have been given the go ahead to completely transform the look of an Ipswich venue.

After two years of preparation, plans to overhaul the New Wolsey theatre have been approved and the large scale refurbishment will get underway on Monday.

The news that the £725,000 refurbishment can go ahead has delighted the management team at the theatre, who have spent five years working to turn around the fortunes of the once ailing theatre.

The ambitious refurbishment plans will see the appearance of the theatre completely changed - both on the outside and in.

From new auditorium seats and carpets to a completely revamped foyer, cafe and bar area to an upstairs extension, better facilities for disabled visitors - including a new lift - and a bold new colour scheme, the theatre is set to continue the journey forward it began five years ago.

But perhaps the most dramatic change people will instantly see will be a new outside seating area that will extend from the front of the building and beyond the current boundary walls.

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The area will be decked and given seating, so that visitors to the theatre can now choose to spend interval or pre-performance time outside as well as in the bar.

Sarah Holmes, chief executive of the New Wolsey, learned on Wednesday that Borough Council planners had given final approval to the plans.

“It is going to be fantastic,” she said.

“For me it is really important to get this going, I was worried that with the council moving on that this would become part of a dying area, but this will change that. I'm really looking forward to running the project and we're all really excited about it.”

Early work on the refurbishment plans began in August 2003 and since then the project has developed into the full scale revamp that will now get underway.

As well as needing the essential planning permission, the theatre also had to secure funding, and this came from the three main funders of the New Wolsey - Ipswich Borough Council, Suffolk County Council and Arts Council England East.

“One of the things we said in the application was that we wanted to make the outside look as enticing and exciting as what we have going on inside,” said Ms Holmes.

“It is like the next phase of what we are doing. We have all been aware of the complaints about the seats and the space issues as well so it's going to be a much nicer place all round.

“The auditorium is such a fantastic space and I'm really looking forward to getting the bright new lights, new seats and carpets and seeing people walk in and get the sense of excitement of being in a beautiful place.”

What do you think about the refurbishment? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

WEBLINK: www.wolseytheatre.co.uk

Ipswich once lost the Wolsey Theatre, when bankruptcy forced it to close in 1999. But in 2001 a new management team led by Sarah Holmes and artistic director Peter Rowe saw it re-open as the New Wolsey. Since then it has gone from strength to strength and re-established the venue as a major player in Ipswich and beyond.

Thanks to the funding approval and planning permission, the New Wolsey's refurbishment plans can now go ahead and the builders will arrive on Monday.

The refurbishment will include: new seats, carpets and an air cooling system in the auditorium, new carpets and seating in the foyer and coffee shop, an extended upstairs bar area, new lift, improved access inside the theatre and a large decking area outside.

While the refurbishment work is underway, the theatre's box office telephone number will stay the same - 01473 295900 - and personal callers to the box office can collect tickets from the New Wolsey Studio in St George's Street.

While it is planned that much of the work will be finished in time for the new theatre season in September, work to the bar area and coffee shop is unlikely to be completed by then.

NEW Wolsey patrons are being given the opportunity to make their mark on the new look theatre, by taking part in a scheme to name a seat.

For a donation of £250 the theatre will mount a named plaque on a seat, where it will stay for at least ten years.

The Name A Seat scheme is forming a major part of the theatre's own contribution to the refurbishment costs. More details are available on the New Wolsey's website or from the theatre.

Don't miss The Ticket, starting on page 21 for details about the New Wolsey's autumn season.

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