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Hope to breathe life into vacant Market Cross

A prominent Bury St Edmunds town centre site which has been vacant since 2015 could be reinvigorated thanks to a new tenant’s vision.

The historic Market Cross could host dancing, music, art, fitness and performances, if the newly-formed Market Cross Community of Creatives opens as planned.

West Suffolk Council is considering a planning application to change the first floor of the Market Cross from art gallery – former tenant Smith’s Row art gallery vacated the site five years ago – to art studio, performance studio and fitness studio.

James Stringer has formed The Market Cross Community of CreativesPicture by Mark Westley
James Stringer has formed The Market Cross Community of CreativesPicture by Mark Westley

The community of creatives is led by James Stringer, of Phoenix Pilates and Dance Ltd.

He said: “The idea is the Market Cross will be a place people come together – dancers and anyone in the performing and creative arts.

“I have started to gather a community of creative people. They’ll be able to hire the space for quite a low rate and put on their performances or classes.”

The flexible space will be equipped with moveable dance mirrors, music system, digital piano and a mini grand piano, wooden stage area, tables, chairs and easels.

“Everything will be there so people can come and use the space as they wish. The idea is it can be a rehearsal room one minute and a dance studio the next,” said salsa and pilates instructor James.

“I really hope the planning goes through.

“There is so much history with the Market Cross. It is a beautiful building – it would be lovely if we could have the downstairs, too.”

Works needed to ready the building for opening include partially removing a partition wall and reinstating a toilet.

James hopes planning permission could be granted before the end of the year, allowing the lease to be finalised and preparations made for a potential opening in March.

"It is exciting – the building is beautiful and has a long history with the creative arts,” he added.

The current Market Cross was built in the 17th century and has had a range of uses, including as a town hall, clothier’s hall and badminton court.

In 1725, the first floor of the Market Cross became Bury’s first permanent theatre. After the Theatre Royal opened in 1819, the Market Cross changed use several times before becoming an art gallery in 1972.

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