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Telford's landmark Anstice to retake its place in history - with pictures and video

By Mat Growcott | Madeley | Attractions | Published:

For generations it was the centre of life in Madeley – a home for love, laughter and occasional tears.

Gemma Aston outside The Anstice with a picture of John Anstice, who the building it named after

Since 1870, The Anstice was a place to celebrate marriage and births, and to mark deaths. Over more than 140 years, it hosted countless shows, concerts and discos, and in a couple of weeks the party will begin again.

It has been under refurbishment for more than a year, but on February 15 its famous ballroom will once again be filled with the sound of music and dance.

Anstice Hall refurb

There are hundreds of stories in Madeley of couples who met at the Anstice, and of the landmark moments for which it provided a backdrop. On its newly painted walls, there is picture after picture of people stood outside its seemingly never-changing façade.

And in the coming years, bosses at the building hope it will take its long-held place back again.

In doing so, they are looking to the future. They are planning a range of events that will help people get the use out of the building.

But they also know how important the building's past is. The £1.1m refurbishment has uncovered long forgotten features covered up by unsympathetic decoration over the decades, and the ballroom still looks like a gorgeous Victorian music hall.

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Just a few years ago it was home to a dusty beer-soaked working man's club – the oldest in the country. Women were signed in alongside their husbands, who by and large were miners.

Now it is home to the town's library, a cafe and facilities for meetings, as well as a venue for music, comedy and youth clubs.

Gemma Aston, director at the venue, said it was an exciting time for The Anstice.

"There are many emotions," she said. "One is 'good Lord, how have we got this far?' The other is 'oh my God, there's only two weeks to go'.

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"Madeley is hugely lacking a hub – somewhere to go, somewhere to be proud of. That's what it needs to be.

"A lot of venues fail when they try to be something they're not. For us it's so important that all of us working here understand the identity of this place: what we are, who we are and why we're here. If we don't know that, then things could go very awry.

"We're not in Shrewsbury, we're in quite a deprived community in Telford, and it's vitally important we don't try to become something we're not. This is our community, so we need to remain accessible and relevant for them. That's really the most important thing.

"Ultimately I want to see happy, lively people. Whatever it is, it needs to become people's home again."

Gemma and her team have worked to make sure volunteers who have spent years protecting the legacy of the Anstice still feel a sense of ownership of the project.

"They have worked so hard to protect this building," she said

"They put so much investment and emotion in there. It's been really vital that they have felt part of this and are now moving forward with us."

The immediate program includes dancing lessons, film screenings, choirs, yoga, youth clubs, drama and more.

Tickets are already on sale for a night of comedy with Simon Brodkin – best known for his Lee Nelson character – and for performers such as Jen Brister and Gary Delaney.

Gemma said putting together events had been a challenge.

"A little bit has been guess work," she said. "There's a lot of people around me know Madeley and know Madeley people, and I think I've come up with a programme that will work for people.

"The next part is to find out what people actually want. People may have told me what they'd like, and I might have put it on, but will they come? That's going to be key."

The next 12 months will see constant development of the programme to build something that will not only be popular with residents, but which will be profitable.

And there won't only be events in the ballroom - Gemma hopes the venue's new cafe will bring in the crowds as well.

"I would really love to have some nice intimate things going on in the cafe – maybe an acoustic cafe, local live bands," she said.

"I'd love to see theatre in the ballroom, which would be a challenge.

"I want to see a real diversity of people who come, so it's not just the same people. It's different people every day getting something different out of it."

While work has been carried out, builders have uncovered a host of original features covered up by decoration nightmares.

Brick arches in the old bar area – now going to house Madeley Library – had been squared off and covered, but now sit in all their glory.

Bad wallpaper has been removed to reveal tiles and brick.

Developers even uncovered hidden windows in the ballroom, still featuring glass from when they had been covered up.

"When we told them what had been found, the trustees were enormously excited," Gemma said.

"It was about uncovering their stories.

"From an aesthetic point of view, it was exciting because I thought it would look really classy. With the old bricks and tiles, people will be able to see it's not just a new build.

"We are absolutely a very important part of history."

Mat Growcott

By Mat Growcott
Reporter - @MGrowcott_Star

Shropshire Star reporter

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