Bid to buy Lewes Magistrates’ Court gets thumbs up from theatre

Former Lewes Magistrates' Court. Photo by Peter Cripps
Former Lewes Magistrates' Court. Photo by Peter Cripps

A trust hoping to turn the former Lewes Magistrates’ Court into a theatre and community venue has welcomed a property developer’s offer to buy the building.

Philip Gorringe, from Ringmer, announced recently he was waiting to find out whether his bid for the Friars Walk building would be accepted by the Ministry of Justice.

He wants to retain the building, converting it into part retail on the ground floor, including a theatre and cultural centre, and with affordable flats for first time buyers.

Sean O’Kane, Lewes Repertory Theatre’s director, said Mr Gorringe’s plan had three major benefits.

“Firstly the existing building will not be knocked down, avoiding all the problems that demolition would have brought to Lewes,” he said.

“Secondly Mr Gorringe is offering to accommodate our theatre group and, thirdly, his offer solves the financial problems of raising the money to buy the building.

“We understand that Mr Gorringe will be in contact with the LRT soon and we very much look forward to that.

“I hope also his plan will be able to accommodate other local groups who are looking for accommodation for dance schools, crèche and disabled workshops.”

Mr O’Kane said there had been widespread support for the idea of a cultural and community centre for Lewes and the surrounding area.

The theatre company believes a public trust company could be set up to buy the building, allowing it to come into public ownership.

LRT was about to publish plans for this when Mr Gorringe stepped in.

Sean O’Kane said “Buying the building will be a long-term project and require the cooperation of the Ministry of Justice and Whitbread plc.

“Whitbread would have to withdraw from their proposed purchase and the Ministry of Justice would have to give the public something like a two-year window to allow them to raise the money to buy the building. It is a tall order, but we believe it’s possible, however, with Mr Gorringe’s offer now having been made to the Ministry of Justice we need to understand how we can merge his commercial needs with the community needs and I look forward to meeting him soon.”

LRT still needs funds to pay for employing planning experts to counter queries raised by East Sussex County Council and the Lewes District Council and set up a website page where people can donate to help at: http://lewesrepertorytheatre.wordpress.com/donate/