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New 'lease of life' for Stowmarket John Peel arts centre

Plans for Stowmarket to become a hub for arts and culture have taken a step forward with the granting of a new long-term lease.

Mid Suffolk District Councillors gave go-ahead today to lease 11 Market Place to the John Peel Centre for 40 years at a ‘peppercorn rent’.

The council purchased the property after NatWest closed its doors in September 2017, and secured planning permission to enable the building’s use for food and drink, assembly, and leisure.

The former NatWest building in Stowmarket
The former NatWest building in Stowmarket

Today, the council voted in favour of giving the arts centre, currently based on Church Walk, a long-term lease on the empty property, ‘providing it with a ‘front door’ on to the Market Place to bring arts, leisure and entertainment to the town centre’.

It is also hoped the move will pave the way for the centre to expand its offering as a cultural and community venue - as part of the larger ‘Stowmarket Vision’ - to grow the town in the field of creative arts, culture and technical innovations.

Councillor Peter Gould, Mid Suffolk District Council’s cabinet member for assets and investment, said: “This is really great news for Stowmarket and will provide a major step forward as we look to make the town a gateway into Suffolk and the ‘go to’ place for arts, entertainment and culture.”

Cllr Gerard Brewster, Mid Suffolk District Council’s cabinet member for economy, said: “This is an example of how we are investing in the future regeneration of our towns.

By working with the John Peel Centre to give people a fresh and exciting offer we can increase visitor numbers to the town, which will provide an economic boost as well.

"The centre’s expansion is among a number of exciting developments set to help the town’s post-Covid recovery:

"The new look Regal Theatre is benefiting from £3.6m of investment for a comprehensive expansion and refurbishment programme which will see it boast three modern cinema screens, improved audio-visual experience, as well as a new front of house, café and bar area.

"Works are also being undertaken to restore and preserve many of the original features of the existing building built in 1936. Two additional auditoria and a new café have been added in recent months."

Funding has also been secured from the Department of Transport’s Active Travel fund for the installation of bicycle storage in the town centre.

Cycle parking bays have been installed outside the John Peel Centre, at the Stricklands Road junction with Ipswich Road and in Wilkes Way.

A second phase of Active Travel Fund will explore the potential to create new cycle routes through the town, linking key sites and open spaces.

Work as part of the wider Stowmarket Vision includes proposals to create a National Museum of Food at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Iliffe Way, as well as a new Festival for 2021.

There are plans to build on the town’s successful Innovation Labs, and develop the concept of reusing empty shops and show windows as alternative spaces.

Read more: All the latest news from Stowmarket

Read more: All the latest news from Suffolk