Eye bank’s new arts role
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Volunteers have transformed a disused bank in Eye into a thriving community cultural centre. David Green reports on their bid to buy the building and make it a permanent home for the arts
Counting the beats is now more important in a building where cashiers once counted money.
Volunteers have transformed the former HSBC Bank in a Suffolk town into an arts centre where music and theatre are performed and classes held in painting, drawing and pottery.
And with income from an integral café and the rental income for language courses and therapy sessions, the centre looks to have a secure future, especially if money can be raised to buy the building, currently leased.
The bank, in the main street at Eye, is thought to have been established in the early 1900s and had been closed for six years when, 18 months ago, volunteers began to convert it into an arts centre – fittingly called The Bank.
Rebecca Lyne, one of the leading figures behind the project, is passionate about providing a creative and stimulating atmosphere where it is easy for people to gain access to the full spectrum of the arts.
Indeed, the main part of the building not only serves as a performance area but also a café. As you drink your tea or coffee you can look at the paintings and sketches on the wall and the sculptures also on show.
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Those who visited the building, for whatever reason, were recently invited to contribute to a wall-hung work of art, regardless of ability, just for the sake of creating a communal image.
Sculptures are also displayed in the permanently opened safes – left behind when the bank branch closed.
Counters at which members of the public once conducted their business with cashiers have found new life for the café and bar and working surfaces for art.
The former manager’s office (distinctive because it has two radiators, one more than anywhere else!) is now used for foreign language and creative writing classes and by massage therapists.
Down in the basement, the bank’s “strong room” has been converted into a sound and video studio while the former staff offices have been transformed into further exhibition space.
Indeed, wherever you roam in this Grade II listed building, works of art look out at you.
“When we moved in some of the ceilings had collapsed and the floor downstairs had to be replaced. We had 25 volunteers doing repairs and improvement work in the first phase and another 20 in the second phase,” said Rebecca, a sculptor who lives a few miles away at Brockdish.
There, she and her partner and fellow sculptor, Chris Parr – also a director of the new not-for-profit community interest company which runs the art centre – have created a “sculpture meadow” behind their home.
It is an area of gentle hillside where works of art are set out in the open – in the midst of the countryside, and you can walk by or just sit and gaze.
“We’ve always been passionate about making art inclusive and here in Eye we can make it accessible in a less intimidating and more relaxed environment than a normal gallery,” Rebecca said.
“The whole point of what we do is building on the heritage we have here; finding ways of to integrate that and make it relevant,” she added.
Workshops are available at The Bank on portraiture, drawing, acrylics, pottery, fused glass, song writing, creative writing, puppet making, animation and several other art forms.
Rebecca said classes were run by experienced tutors in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and provided an opportunity to meet like-minded people while developing creative skills.
“We try to celebrate the whole breadth of art for all ages, abilities and tastes,” she said.
For further information go to www.thebankeye.org or telephone 01379 873495.