New Chichester City Arts Centre set to open in the autumn

Chichester’s former St Bartholomew’s Church is set to become the Chichester City Arts Centre this autumn.

Rosemary Bell......
Rosemary Bell......

Rosemary Bell, who has run the Rosemary Bell Academy of Dance in Chichester for the past 12 years, will relaunch the church as the city’s newest arts venue.

It will be home to Rosemary’s ballet school, but also available to community groups for hire, Rosemary confirmed.

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Rosemary and her family have bought the building for an undisclosed sum and will run it as a family business.

She admits it's a risk at a time when people are talking of recession: “And you can see the empty shops in Chichester already.”

But she is confident the new venture will be a success: “There is nothing else like it and already we are getting lots of interest.

“We had been looking for premises for a long time and St Bartholomew's came up. Before we had hired Portfield Primary Academy and also used Westhampnett Community Hall, but we have been thinking about trying to get our own premises for a long time and hoping that the right property would come up. And then my mum was watching something like Homes Under The Hammer on TV and saw something about a church conversion. She googled churches for sale in Chichester and St Bartholomew's popped up. We went to look at it and a lot of people were interested. We put in a bid and we had to be chosen as the preferred bidder. It was owned by the Church Commissioners and they wanted something that would be appropriate to the building and that would be positive for the community and they decided that we fitted that.”

Rosemary understands that it was hired by Chichester College from about 2005 to 2015 but has been completely empty since then and had stopped being a practising church open to the public in the 1950s. The building dates from the 1830s.

“It is in pretty good nick. It has a large open space but there are no facilities and there is a lot of work to be done. There are no toilets, for instance, but it does look like someone has just walked out and it is quite unchanged but it is not usable for us at the moment. We will be starting the work in May and we will be hoping to open around September 2022. And it is going to be called the Chichester City Arts Centre, home to the Rosemary Bell Academy of Dance, but also open for community hire and we're already seeing interest.

“It is a beautiful building and I just can't see people not wanting to use it. It is an unbelievable building, a stunning building and I do believe that it will be a very popular venue. We're looking forward to seeing whatever the community wants to do there.”

Rosemary has run her Academy for 12 years and has around 250 students: “We would be hoping to increase that number with the prestige of having our own venue. It is very exciting and we are confident that it will work brilliantly for us.”