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Rejected Funding Bid Puts Wilton's in Jeopardy

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Please note: This story has been updated to include a response from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has rejected a £2.25 million funding bid towards the rennovation and conservation of Wilton's Music Hall, the world’s oldest surviving music hall and the only surviving building of its kind, with the venue's director Frances Mayhew warning that the venue could be closed down by the autumn if the funds cannot be raised from other sources.

Wilton’s applied for a £2.25 million grant towards a capital project to conserve, renovate and protect the structure and fabric of the historic hall, which is expected to require £3.8 million in total.

The project would also look to open the 40% of the building that is currently not accessible to the public.

Speaking on behalf of Wilton’s Music Hall Trust, the venue's artistic director Frances Mayhew today said: "This is a real blow to Wilton’s. The building cannot wait any longer though, we need to take action and raise the £3.8 million now. If we do nothing, by autumn this year we would be closed down. We won’t let this happen."

In a statement, Carole Souter HLF's chief executive responded: "Wilton’s Music Hall is a unique and precious part of our theatrical heritage. The Trust’s plans were well articulated and ranked highly for our support. However, this was a competitive round of funding – almost three times over-subscribed - and, in spite of huge enthusiasm for the project, we simply did not have enough money to fund it in this round as other projects were even stronger. We will be meeting with Trust representatives shortly in order to provide feedback and discuss the best way forward.”

Mayhew has also suggested the hall's Tower Hamlets location "in one of the poorest boroughs in London" did not "naturally attract funding". The HLF responded saying that to date the organisation has made 215 awards in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets totalling £58.6 million.

Amongst the work needed to Wilton's are structural repairs to terrace houses on Graces Alley, which have partially collapsed; the replacement of unsafe floors, roofs and structural beams that have rotted away; fully waterproofing and fireproofing the building to comply with regulations; securing and making safe the top floors of the terrace houses and opening them up to increase the amount space for performance and heritage work; creating studio spaces for rehearsal, education and outreach work, the John Wilton Room and a reading room; and making the hall fully accessible, including installing a lift.

Wilton’s was acknowledged by English Heritage on their Buildings at Risk Register in 1998 and the World Monuments Fund on their Watch List of 2007. It has been a Grade II* building since 1971, and situated in a conservation area since 2008.

Wilton's has witnessed and played a key role in some of the most important events in East London and national history with significant moments include the Dockers Strike of 1889, which ended in the foundation of workers rights and the first UK trade union, and providing shelter to anti fascist protestors during The Battle of Cable Street of 1936.

The building had previously been selected to represent, unsuccessfully, London and the South East in the final of the BBC's Restoration television programme in September 2003, which saw it compete against nine other historic properties from around the country to be saved by public vote.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) distributes money from the National Lottery to sustain and transform heritage including museums, parks and historic places as well as archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions. Over the past 15 years HLF has supported over 30,000 projects, allocating £4.5 billion across the UK.

As part of the Wilton's capital appeal the venue continues to ask members of the public for donations through wiltons.org.uk


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