Lewes gallery closes in wake of blaze

Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix Theatre

The fire which destroyed the Phoenix Theatre and Studios complex in Lewes has had a serious impact on a neighbouring property.

As the fire raged in North Street it was difficult to see how it was affecting The Foundry Gallery, which lies next door.

Now it has emerged the art gallery has been forced to close – and a big question mark has been thrown over its future.

Managers are waiting to hear if the building is structurally safe and can be used again as a public space.

Wenda Bradley and Christine Hall, of Artemis Arts, manage the gallery and were in the crowd watching the Phoenix Theatre disaster unfold. But they were unable to see how much damage was being done to their venue.

Firefighters entered the gallery during the blaze and sprayed water and foam to prevent the flames from spreading through the roof and walls.

Wenda said: “The Phoenix Theatre was primarily a wooden building and the fire spread so quickly that it was impossible to save it, so the firefighters focussed on stopping the flames from spreading. They went into our building and started spraying the connecting wall because it was red hot.

“The space was full of foam and water but we are obviously very grateful to East Sussex Fire and Rescue for the actions they took to save the building.’’

Christine said: “We have a full programme of events and exhibitions planned for this year. The Stanley Simmonds Retrospective is due to open in mid-May as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival.

“We are waiting to hear whether the building is safe and will be suitable to be used again as a public space. If not we may need to find an alternative venue but the Stanley Simmonds show consists of more than 200 paintings and there are very few galleries in the area that are big enough to display such a large collection.

“Artemis Arts has used the venue for more than eight years for the benefit of the community and will need to consider how the company can proceed once the extent of the damage to the building is known.”

She added: “Like many small charities Artemis Arts is finding it increasingly difficult to secure funding to allow it to carry out its work.

“The Foundry Gallery has become a well loved atmospheric venue for the arts and will be missed by many when it finally closes.

“For the moment the site is still closed while surveyors decide on the safety of the structure.”

Artemis Arts was set up in 2006 to work with the community and celebrate local culture.