Pressing ahead with self-supporting arts and heritage centre for Leighton Buzzard

Central Beds Council owns the land on which the trustees hope to build the Peppercorn Centre

By News Reporter
Wednesday, 9th February 2022, 9:46 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th February 2022, 9:49 am

A new group, which has been working on plans for new arts and heritage facilities for Leighton Buzzard, has formed a charitable company to further its aims.

The Peppercorn Centre’s five trustees commissioned a feasibility study which shows that their ideas for an arts and heritage centre on the south side of the High Street would be self-supporting from the revenue it would generate and will not require public subsidy.

Although the trustees have expertise in the arts, music and heritage sectors they would employ a team from those areas to run it on professional lines for the benefit of the community.

The Peppercorn Centre directors on the site of the proposed arts and heritage centre behind the Wilkos Store in the High Street. Left to right, Gabi Davison, Natasha Seale, Janet Kirby, Sally White and Paul Brown

The plan is to provide many facilities currently lacking in the town, including services that help children in dance and drama, as well as all those interested in the arts and history.

Surveys of both individuals and arts and drama and history groups in the town have shown both support for the idea and a general belief that such facilities are needed.

It was a point borne out by January’s town centre report from the consultancy IntoPlaces Ltd, commissioned by the Leighton-Linslade Town Council, which praised the vitality of the town centre but said did not attract the 25-34 age bracket and there was “lack of community, creative arts and leisure facilities”. The trustees say The Peppercorn Centre aims to correct that deficiency.

Central Bedfordshire Council owns the land on the south side of the High Street on which the trustees hope to build the Peppercorn Centre. For 30 years it has been subject to many consultations and reports without any plans being brought to fruition to make use of the land.

The trustees are hoping to persuade councillors that the Peppercorn Centre would be a good use for part of the site providing services that a town of 40,000 people needs.

They say the plan is to bring new life and prosperity to the High Street by drawing in more people both during the day and in the evenings, and point out that some representatives on both Leighton-Linslade and Central Beds councils have already shown positive support for this idea.

Among the trustees of the Peppercorn Centre Company is Sally White, representing Leighton Buzzard Art Society. She said: “I am totally enthusiastic about Leighton Buzzard having a permanent art display space. There is, a huge amount of creative talent in the town and there should be a community space where that is not only represented but encouraged and nurtured.”

Another trustee is international performer and educator, Natasha Seale, as well as Gabi Davison, previously freelancer with the Arts Council. The two others are Paul Brown, former environment correspondent of The Guardian and until recently chairman of the thriving Leighton Buzzard and District Archaeological and Historical Society, and Janet Kirby, the society’s treasurer.

Their vision is for Leighton Buzzard to have its own vibrant art, music and heritage home in the centre of Leighton Buzzard. It will include a vibrant meeting place with a cafe/bar, an exhibition and display area for both art exhibitions and changing heritage displays, and also an intimate studio performance space that will host small scale live shows, inspire and develop in house local new works and support cultural connections.

Many theatres have a main house with the big shows and then a smaller studio theatre which supports creative new work and smaller performances. This performance space will play the role of a studio theatre to the library theatre.

The Peppercorn Centre will also have two rehearsal and studio spaces for hire and facilities to display, store and work on historical and archaeological collections. It is hoped also to have an outstation of the Bedfordshire Archives.

The next step is to form a ‘Friends of the Peppercorn Centre’ to help promote the idea. The trustees need to commission architects to draw up initial plans for the centre based on the ideas in the feasibility study produced by the consultancy, Counterculture.

In time the Friends will be at the core of the project and be open to both individual and corporate membership. The idea once the centre is up and running is that membership of the “Friends” will bring benefits like discount on tickets and early booking options to the many activities the centre will promote.

Peppercorn café will provide a vibrant community hub open from 9am until late, a natural place to meet and organise and hold local events as well as to attend high quality professional performances. Many artists in the town, currently lacking facilities, have expressed an interest in making the centre their base and using it to premiere their performances before going on tour elsewhere.

The facilities provided are designed to be additional to the current library theatre in Lake Street with the two venues cooperating to provide different services.

Peppercorn would welcome donations and has started a fund so it can commission architect’s drawings of the proposed centre. Contact: [email protected]> What do you think of this latest development? Email [email protected]