New Linslade base for theatre academy was once used to store snake, crocodile and lizard skins!

The Recreation Rooms
The Recreation Rooms

It was once a war-time factory storing thousands of snake, crocodile and lizard skins, but now the stage has been set for a new venture by a former West End actor from Linslade.

Richard Fox, the owner of Leighton Buzzard’s Musical Theatre High! Academy bought the old Methodist Church on Mentmore Road, which dates back to the late 1930s, earlier this year.

The revealed fire place

The revealed fire place

Following renovation work it has been transformed into The Recreation Rooms, to provide his own space for Richard’s theatre classes and also act as a venue for the local community to hire for fitness classes, children’s parties and various other recreational activities.

In the space of four weeks, the building’s middle wall separating the chapel and hall was demolished, making the space a more useable one.

In addition two walls in the front extension have been removed opening the entrance into one big space for the reception area. Assisted by a strong team of professionals and volunteers of friends and theatre school parents, they swiftly transformed the chapel into a now light, open, contemporary space.

In the process of the renovation numerous items were discovered. A fireplace with original tiles in what was once a school room at the back of the building. On the communion rail, a plate with inscription from sisters who donated it to the chapel in memory of their parents dated 1956.

The pulpit has been upcycled to create the reception desk

The pulpit has been upcycled to create the reception desk

The pulpit, also left behind by the Church has been upcycled to create the reception desk as you enter the building. The beams of the front space have been taken back to their original black form and wood floor sanded and lacquered, celebrating the building’s history.

Richard’s parents, Bridget and Jerry Fox officially launched The Recreation Rooms at an open day on October 28. Richard said: “My parents are the sole reason this is all happening, whom enabled me to train in a career in theatre and supported me throughout. I can’t think of anyone more fitting to open something so special.”

Linslade born and bred, Richard grew up in the area in the late 1970s attending local schools and attended dance and drama clubs aiming to have a career in the theatre.

On leaving school at 16 he trained professionally at Laine Theatre Arts in Epsom achieving his teaching qualifications. He consequently went on to have a healthy career in musical theatre over a period of 15 years changing his name to Richard Reynard as there already existed a performer with Fox as his surname.

The communion rail plate

The communion rail plate

Appearing in numerous West End and touring productions he progressed as an ensemble and understudy to the leading man in shows such as Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Boyfriend and Blood Brothers.

Coming to the end of his performing career, his focus shifted to teaching, working at various prestigious theatre schools such as Arts Educational, Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, and Stagecoach, where he broadened his experience in this field.

On doing so he founded his own company Musical Theatre High! in Leighton Buzzard in February 2010 presenting holiday workshops to local children. The company then established itself as a theatre academy in 2012 at Leighton Middle School and celebrated its fifth anniversary this year.

Richard had a strong desire to have his own premises for his school. On seeing the Linslade Methodist Chapel up for sale, he promptly made a bid for what he would love to have for Musical Theatre High! On June 1 his offer was accepted and sale completed on September 25, renaming the building The Recreation Rooms. The building hails back to just before the war in the late 1930s and over the past 80 or so years seen different owners and uses for the space.

The building before and after

The building before and after

Originally a dance and concert hall, it was closed down and sold due to a bad state of repair and during the war was used as a factory to store thousands of snake, crocodile and lizard skins in preparation to beautify ladies clothing and accessories.

In 1956 the building was renovated with an extension built on the front and transformed into The Linslade Methodist Chapel. During this time the hall behind the Chapel has seen numerous uses for local groups including The Woman’s Institute, A Sunday School and Youth Club, numerous recreational groups and parties. > The Recreation Rooms is available to hire throughout the year for clubs, events and parties. For more information visit www.therecreationrooms.co.uk or call 07483 873838.