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Could Newbury's old library be restored to public use by the Corn Exchange?

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Exciting developments from the Corn Exchange, who have for some time been searching for new premises to house their learning and participation activities arm, after they moved out of the former Barclays bank site in Market Place when the lease expired. Hogan's have temporarily given them space to continue their activities in Bartholomew Street.

Working closely with Greenham Trust, the town centre arts organisation has put in a planning application to West Berkshire Council for the change of use of the former Prezzo building in Cheap Street that has been empty for some time and has been identified as an ideal space. The beautiful building was originally a library and subject to planning could be restored to public use.

At this stage, basic plans have been submitted and can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3bc0QIR

The former library in Cheap Street
The former library in Cheap Street

In its design, access and heritage statement the Corn Exchange says: " The proposal seeks the change of use to provide a performing arts studio and theatre, learning centre, foyer lounge and associated office and back of house spaces. Creating a purpose built dedicated studio theatre and a permanent home for the learning centre where the activities of the Corn Exchange Trust take place. The vision is to provide a multi functional space which promotes learning, health and wellbeing through theatre play.

The learning centre facilitates local engagement and will benefit those who are socially isolated and socially or economically deprived, through cultural engagement to improve both physical and mental health and wellbeing.

This area of work is key to the Corn Exchange’s role as a cultural organisation at the heart of its community. Engagement with its cultural activities are a vital lifeline to many, from older people who are at risk of social isolation, families who are socially and economically deprived, as well as young people who are seeing a dramatic decline in arts provision at school. The Corn Exchange is also at the forefront of supporting the development of social prescribing in the local area finding routes for GPs and the NHS to offer cultural engagement to improve both physical and mental health and wellbeing.

In 2019, Corn Exchange led activities saw attendances of 27,535 over the duration of the year. Courses range from parent and toddler music sessions to dance for people living with Parkinson’s Disease as well as a thriving youth theatre programme, which is attended by over 150 young people every week.

The proposed studio theatre will allow for a larger audience capacity but limited to a maximum of 120 people at any one time.

Supporting artists is a vital part of the Corn Exchange’s work and artistic programming is driving and supporting the trusts audience development ambitions (their live programme currently performs at 76 per cent capacity).The Corn Exchange is confident that with a new town centre studio they have the right experience to be able to generate further programme opportunities and a variety of ways to support an even greater number of artists to take both artistic and financial risks and develop new audiences.

The Corn Exchange is also excited by the opportunities to promote the relationship between artists and participants and the intrinsic impact of locating the Learning Centre within the same building as the new studio and theatre. It is the belief that it can create an aspirational environment and a dynamism that encourages participants to reach their potential, or in many cases reach beyond what might have previously felt achievable. It will provide participants with a space that can be used for showcasing and sharing, making their work visible alongside the Corn Exchange’s professional performance programmes.

Many of the young participants have additional social needs. The experience they gain collaborating with artists helps provide clearer future pathways for young people, equipping them with transferable skills for employment and providing them with aspirations and opportunities that have often been missing from their childhood."

As the planning process progresses the Corn Exchange will share detailed drawings and artist impressions with @newburytoday

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