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Plans to turn empty Norwich church St Laurence into a circus

PUBLISHED: 06:30 12 January 2012 | UPDATED: 10:09 12 January 2012

Juggler James Thompson who is one of the performers hoping to turn St Lawrence Church, St Benedicts, Norwich in to a circus. photo: Steve Adams

Juggler James Thompson who is one of the performers hoping to turn St Lawrence Church, St Benedicts, Norwich in to a circus. photo: Steve Adams

An abandoned medieval church could be transformed into Norwich's only full-time circus complete with jugglers, trapeze artists and performing "insects".

St Laurence, on St Benedict’s Street, one of the biggest empty spaces in Norwich, is set to host 10 days of circus performances and workshops in May.

If all goes well the city centre church could become the home for the region’s circus scene.

Juggler James Thompson, 28, one of the performers behind the project, said the city was crying out for a space for people to learn circus skills.

Starting on May 11 they will begin workshops and displays to show there is an interest in the city. Mr Thompson said: “There is not a place for a circus in Norwich and we are flagging behind with other big independent cities.

“We have the Lanes and culture going on but we don’t have our own circus space. “I

“I want a central space for people to train and learn and to meet.

“There are lots of circus professionals in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex but no central hub for them.”

In the long term Mr Thompson who juggles with knives and fire balls hopes to set up classes and training for children and adults in Norwich to learn skills from acrobatics to sound techniques.

Mr Thompson said the building caught his eye a year ago and he started finding out if he could use it.

For the performance in May a stage and trapeze line will be put in the fifteenth century church.

Tiered seating for 250 spectators will go where the pews once were.

He is working with Norfolk’s Circus Chermond and the insect circus run by Mark Copeland who will bring his menagerie of artists who perform dressed as snails and beetles to the show in May.

Mr Copeland, who is from Bury St Edmunds, said: “It looks like a perfect space. You could do a lot of spectacular aerial.”

Matthew Mckeague, regeneration manager for the Churches Conservation Trust which looks after St Laurence, said a circus school and performance venue was one of a few potential options as they looked to put the empty building to good use.

“Reusing the building for artistic use has been proposed,” he said.

“We are considering a number of potential options.

“It is about creating a use for the building that is both sustainable financially, acceptable in respect of the building’s importance and one which a lot of people will want to see in there.

“It is a beautiful building and we are committed to finding a use for it.”

A similar scheme run by the Churches Conservation Trust in a Bristol church has proved popular and organisers hope to repeat that success here.

But to transform the inside of the grade one building into a permanent home for the circus, a long running fundraising campaign will have to be launched.

Michael Loveday, chief executive of Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (HEART) said it was a constant challenge to find uses for the churches in the city which has the largest collection of medieval churches in northern Europe.

“I think the idea is very exciting,” he said. “It is good to do it somewhere like St Benedict’s where there is a lot of cultural activity going on.

“We have been struggling ever since we have been in existence with St Laurence’s.”

The church has a memorial to Sarah Glover, the inventor of Norwich Sol-fa - a form of musical notation which made reading music easier.

And Mr Loveday said: “One of the great inventors of music has an association with the church so it is good to have performing arts there.”

What do you think of the plans? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1 RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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