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Players' bid gives hope to congregation

PUBLISHED: 11:29 17 October 2008 | UPDATED: 21:32 05 July 2010

HOPE may still remain for the congregation of the Bethel, in Lowestoft, to return to their beloved home, after a potential new owner opened the door for them to use the building again in the future.

HOPE may still remain for the congregation of the Bethel, in Lowestoft, to return to their beloved home, after a potential new owner opened the door for them to use the building again in the future.

The Lowestoft Players have applied to Waveney District Council for planning permission to change the use of the historic building, in Battery Green Road, from a church to a rehearsal studio, after they had an offer for the Bethel accepted by the current owners, the British International Sailors' Society.

And this week the amateur dramatic group's chairman explained that if successful, they would speak with the church about the possibility of letting them use the building in some way.

“We haven't spoken to the church people as it would be wrong until we have exchanged contracts, but we have said to the national body and through the planning application that if they wanted to meet inside the large room, and if it fitted in with us, we would look sympathetically on this,” said Malcolm Berridge.

The historic church has been a place of worship for the town's fishing families for over a century, but after the congregation were unable to raise the £160,000 required to buy the building, the church hosted a final Goodbye Bethel service on Sunday, September 28. Currently the congregation meet at St Margaret's Church Hall while they look for a permanent venue.

The Lowestoft Players understand that there have been other bidders for the Bethel, but hope that their application will be looked on favourably as they would not make any substantial changes to the building.

“The building will be totally retained by us and hopefully that meets with the blessing of Waveney, architects, historians, and the church,” said Mr Berridge.

The planning application was submitted on September 26 and is expected to take around six to eight weeks to process, but if accepted it will be a significant step for the amateur dramatic group, who have been renting their current base at Stradbroke Road for almost 40 years.

“Lowestoft Players have looked for many years and considered a number of other opportunities on the market, but when it was announced that the national body was selling this, it was seen as a very good opportunity,” Mr Berridge said.

“It is very sad for the church people, and we respect and recognise that, but we really do hope that, not withstanding the sadness they have had, they will be happy to see their building being retained, and if there is some small use for them in due course we will be happy to talk to them.”

The Players hope that the legal process could be completed by December and, although they have yet to establish a programme to take over, are keen to move inside and start operating as soon as possible.

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