John Peel Centre to expand into former NatWest bank

The former NatWest bank in Stowmarket is to be used to expand the John Peel Centre in the town centre.

Mid Suffolk District Council’s Cabinet voted in favour of giving the arts centre a new long lease on the empty property – providing the venue with a “front door” on to the Market Place.

The 40-year lease, at a peppercorn rent, will fulfil the council’s aim to revitalise the former bank site. It will also pave the way for the John Peel Centre to expand its offer as a cultural and community venue, as part of the broader Stowmarket Vision.

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

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.”

And Gerard Brewster, Mid Suffolk District Council’s cabinet member for economy, added: “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 and two additional auditoria and a new café have been added in recent months.

Across the wider town centre, 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. Proposals for the second phase have been published by Suffolk County Council and are now open for consultation.

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 hugely successful Innovation Labs, and develop the concept of reusing empty shops and show windows as alternative spaces.

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