A master plan for the Maltings

Realising Britten's vision of a creative campus at Snape Maltings.

Realising Britten's vision of a creative campus at Snape Maltings. - Credit: Archant

As Aldeburgh Festival 2017 prepares to celebrate 50 years of music making at Snape Maltings, Linda Duffin catches up on progress towards realising Britten’s vision of a world class creative campus

The management team at Snape Maltings.L-R Roger Wright,Kate Morgan and Harry Young.

The management team at Snape Maltings.L-R Roger Wright,Kate Morgan and Harry Young. - Credit: Archant

It’s a funny old site,” says Harry Young, with masterly understatement. “If you were starting from scratch you’d never organise things the way they are organised.” Harry is general manager of Snape Maltings and it’s his job to oversee its day-to-day running, but, crucially, to help shape the master plan which will settle and safeguard its future.

Snape Maltings was built in the mid-1800s by Victorian entrepreneur Newson Garrett to malt barley and ship it by Thames barge to breweries in London and elsewhere.

“We believe,” says Harry, “it was once East Anglia’s largest industrial employer.” But by the 1960s the business was moribund and the site was sold to Suffolk farmer George Gooderham. At the same time, Aldeburgh Festival, set up by composer Benjamin Britten, had outgrown its venues and Britten leased the maltings’ biggest building to build the now iconic concert hall, opened by the Queen in 1967.

Harry Young, general manager, Snape Maltings.

Harry Young, general manager, Snape Maltings. - Credit: Archant

Fifty years on, Snape Maltings is undergoing its latest transformation. Aldeburgh Music, the charity which grew out of Britten’s vision, bought the site from the Gooderham family two years ago. They inherited a thriving retail business and the challenge of integrating that as seamlessly as possible with their work as an arts organisation. But a quarter of the site is still derelict and the charity, re-launched under the name of Snape Maltings, also has the next half century to plan for.

Chief executive Roger Wright says: “We’re now looking at what the master plan for the site might be – the cost all of those plans, particularly the cost of renovating the derelict buildings. Then it’s going to be our job to fund-raise.” On the creative side their top priorities are to develop accommodation for visiting musicians and students, to pursue their ground-breaking work on music and well-being focused on dementia and Parkinson’s Disease sufferers, and to increase the number of musicians’ residencies.

Kate Morgan, retail director, Snape Maltings.

Kate Morgan, retail director, Snape Maltings. - Credit: Archant

“We need more spaces for that to happen,” says Roger. “That’s something that is incredibly distinctive, people having time, space and focus in these beautiful buildings in this extraordinary location, to do unique work. That might be young professional development, string quartets in residence, composers, performers working with architects to create new pieces, choreographers and opera writers, there’s a whole combination, still with music very much at the core of all of that activity.” Harry Young is focused on the nitty-gritty.

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“You’ve got to worry about where people arrive, park, where they pick up a leaflet, where they go to the loo, where they shop, where they go to a concert, how they leave,” he says. “We need three new music studios, up to 100 bedrooms if we can find the space for them, we want a heritage centre so we can celebrate our industrial past, we’d like an equivalent space where children and families can come and learn about sound waves and acoustics and the effects of music on the brain. We’d like to create three units for businesses in the creative or cultural industries and we’re looking at some commercial retail options as well.”

Roger Wright, CEO, Aldeburgh Music at Snape Maltings.

Roger Wright, CEO, Aldeburgh Music at Snape Maltings. - Credit: Archant

“It’s got to be the right offer, the right brand and fit” says retail director Kate Morgan. “What’s lovely is that I make money for a really good organisation. Every penny we make gets recycled back into the business. I don’t think customers realise that we’re one of the revenue streams that support the charity and the music and everything we do here.”

Harry agrees: “Ultimately what we need to do with all of these new ideas [is] to run them through a filter: do they help Snape Maltings become the greatest cultural destination and creative campus it can be and can it help us make a group which is not-for-profit financially resilient in the future?” Snape Maltings’ development will, no doubt, be to Suffolk’s advantage, but there are some complex issues to be resolved along the way, one of them being a fairly controversial concept for additional car parking on land the other side of the river. It’s drawn opposition from local residents and other parties concerned about such an ecologically sensitive site.

Roger Wright, CEO, Aldeburgh Music at Snape Maltings.

Roger Wright, CEO, Aldeburgh Music at Snape Maltings. - Credit: Archant

But Harry insists it’s very early days, and plans released thus far are only part of an open feasibility exercise to improve the maltings’ overstretched car park provision. They’ve listened to feedback, and at the most recent meeting with their neighbours on April 19, they committed to look again at all possible options. It’s unlikely that any permission will be sought before the end of 2017 at the very earliest, says Harry, and there will be further meetings in the autumn.

“This is our last chance to come up with the best master plan. Once the derelict buildings are redeveloped then the site’s fixed. I think with the fairest wind imaginable it’s going to take five or six years, much more likely 10.” It is a long term project, but with the possibility of job creation and many more visitors to the locality, it is one which could pay dividends for more than just Snape Maltings.

Snape Maltings.

Snape Maltings. - Credit: Archant

Aldeburgh Festival 2017 celebrates the 50th anniversary of music at Snape Maltings www.snapemaltings.co.uk/season/aldeburgh-festival/