Former Marlows Pet and Aquatic centre, in Bury St Edmunds, has been transformed into new home for long-established dance studios
The doors have opened to a Bury St Edmunds dance school’s new studios, based at the former Marlows site.
For Hazelwood Dance Studios principal Hannah Francis, it is the realisation of the first phase of her vision to develop the long-established business, which she took over in January 2020.
The former professional dancer, 42, had already achieved great success with her dance school and pre-professional courses in Italy before moving back to her hometown.
And having paid close attention to the development of the pandemic in Italy – as she was also still running her school there at the time – Hannah ensured Hazelwood was ready to offer online classes when the March 2020 lockdown started.
Fast forward nearly two years and Hazelwood not only boasts 250 students but has moved to bright and spacious new premises at the former Marlows pet shop, off Hollow Road.
It already boasts a bright and welcoming reception area, three large air-conditioned studios, accessible toilets and changing areas.
Phase two of the project will see a fourth studio, breakout room, staff room and office completed on the ground floor, with a first floor gym, sauna, treatment room and contextual studies room.
It is a ‘significant investment’ in what was an empty warehouse following Marlows' closure in 2020.
“When I heard Marlows was closing I was straight on the phone to the manager and asked if it would be renting this space. At the time, the answer was no,” said Hannah.
“By March 2021 we had another building in mind, which fell through. We knew we had to be out of our Northgate Business Park studios so I phoned the estate agents and asked if there was any news on Marlows. The answer was yes.
“I wanted this place for its location, its size, plenty of parking, it wasn’t a listed building – meaning we could do more with it – and it’s only a mile from the old Hazelwood,” said Hannah.
Work started on November 1, when the former pet shop was ‘a big empty box’, and finished on Saturday evening, ahead of an open event on Sunday.
“It is amazing how it has come together. We spent the whole of Christmas and New Year painting. Some of the parents have been fantastic, cleaning and painting and putting things up,” said Hannah.
Hazelwood is now able to offer larger studios and up-to-date facilities for its 250 students, along with more dance genres.
“Our previous studios were long and thin which meant we were limited in what we could do. Now we have more space and more studios,” said Hannah.
And so far, the response from those who have seen the studios has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People love it,” said Hannah. “One person who looked around was blown away and said they wished they’d been able to train in studios like this as a youngster.”
In September, Eden Theatre Arts college will also open on the site.
Offering full-time two-year level three extended diplomas and one-year intensive foundation courses for 18-plus, the college will give students the additional training required to secure a place on a three-year diploma or degree course.
“Eden grew out of my dance school in Italy,” said Hannah. “We built that from scratch and had 100 per cent success rate of students getting into the courses they wanted.”
“Eden will be a place of learning and education and a place where students are happy and relaxed.”