The Quay (theatre) began life in 1791 as the principal Sudbury Warehouse, 'The Great Granary' for The River Stour Navigation Company. It experienced a chequered career after the Company went into liquidation in 1913, and, when members of Sudbury Dramatic Society first explored it in 1977, was being used as a store for bulldozers and cement mixers.
In December 1977 the building was purchased by Sudbury Dramatic Society (SDS) for £15,000 and their members set about converting the building into a headquarters and theatre on a voluntary basis. After the need had been proven, outside fundraisers were brought in in 1980 to help raise the estimated £120,000 needed to fully convert the building. From 1st January 1981, Richard Dunning was appointed as Development Officer to oversee the fundraising process and building work. Progress was swift; George Parker, a former Mayor of Sudbury and Manager of John Hilary Travel, became the Chairman of the newly formed Quay Development Trust - a body set up to protect donors' money. In May 1981 contractors moved in to commence building work and on 5th December, The Quay was officially opened by local celebrity Geoff Kisby in the presence of top comedian/actor Max Wall.
A Quay Management Committee was formed in August 1981 under the chairmanship of local businessman and councillor John Colman and Richard Dunning was appointed as Manager in addition to his role as Development Officer. An administrator was also appointed from 1st January 1982. A Jazz Club, Film and Music Societies were quickly formed and a Friends organisation to oversee such activities as the Gallery and sales desk. Professional theatre companies and guest celebrities quickly established themselves as part of The Quay's programme. From March 1982, The Quay Bar began to open at lunchtimes in addition to evenings and a catering service began under a newly appointed Bar & Catering Manager.
Despite the success of fundraising for capital projects - almost £200,000 had been committed by the beginning of 1983 - The Quay Management Committee was running into deficit and monies had to be 'borrowed' from the capital fund in order to continue the operation. Meetings were arranged with the Eastern Arts Association and Babergh District Council in order to seek revenue support and EAA did begin a small financial input into professional programming. The first BDC revenue support did not come until the 1985/86 financial year when a grant of £1,500 was made.
In June 1983, following a report commissioned on the future structure of The Quay's management, Mildred Head took over as the new Management Committee Chairman and the Committee was split from the Sudbury Dramatic Society Committee for the first time. This process culminated in the setting up of a new charity - The Quay at Sudbury - from 1st May 1987 which became a separate legal entity from SDS although all its members (alongside those of the other Quay Societies) remained as members of The Quay at Sudbury.
1984 saw further programme developments. Riverside, featuring local rock bands and a Folk Club were in full swing and many professional touring companies visited The Quay. A new extension was commissioned having agreed a £30,000 grant from the Michael Marks Trust and a £10,000 capital grant from BDC. The 1984 extension comprised a box office, administrator's office, bar extension and two kitchens and was coupled with the movement of SDS costume hire department to a space above the auditorium, providing a hireable room to be created above the bar (now called the Geoff Kisby Room, used in various forms, not least the restaurant Shillingfords). The additional catering facilities allowed far more scope and the catering operation was greatly enhanced following completion of the extension in August 1984. YTS employees and many volunteers were by this time undertaking a number of regular jobs such as box office and technical and maintenance assistance. A Light Operatic Society was formed at the Quay in September 1984 and also in that year The Quay was presented with first prize in the RICS / Times Conservation Awards.
In October 1986 an offer came from Sudbury Bowls Club to lease an adjacent building called The Jetty. This meant that The Quay School of Dance returned to The Quay and the auditorium was released for even more public performances. The demise of the Film Society in 1985 and the closure of Sudbury's sole cinema led to the launch of Quay Cinema in 1986 and monies raised by the Quay Study Group permitted investment in a new screen and projector in January 1987.
1987 saw great strides forward with the new charity coming into effect from 1st May and thereby creating 550 member organisation, much capital investment, including a new phone system; some changes in staff and the direct takeover of catering and from 5th October - a bar and catering service open from 10am to 11pm daily. Staffing levels and use of the building increased.
In early 1990, Richard Dunning, the mastermind behind The Quay project died. Following this sad event, The Quay went through a period of upheaval and uncertainty which resulted in a poor financial year for the theatre. Robin Hodgkinson arrived as the new Theatre Director in December 1990 and immediately undertook a review of managerial and administrative procedures within the building. A modified management structure was created and new financial procedures were instituted to tighten control on expenditure. During 1991/92 a new membership scheme was introduced offering a wide variety of benefits including ticket price reductions, this also allowed members of the public who were not members of in-house societies to give their support of The Quay.
The theatre also expanded its educational and community programme and introduced a wide range of youth activities. Literature lectures, school set text workshops, Create a Play weeks for young children, and a week-long drama during the year. A Saturday morning entertainment club for children (Mr. Punch's Sausage & Custard Club) heralded an expansion in family entertainment. During the Summer of 1991 Quayhole Theatre Company (Theatre in Education) was comprised of SDS members who were either professionally trained performers or drama teachers. The in-house societies all had a good year, SDS breaking all previous records.
1992/93 maintained The Quay's busy programme despite a cut in grant aid. In the Autumn, Karen Boggan was appointed as Fundraiser for Quay 2000 - a project with the designated aim of raising £200,000 by the year 2000 to maintain the structure and fabric of the building. The fundraising appeal was officially launched at a gala evening performance of SDS's production of Tom Jones in March 1993. During the year, The Jetty was refurbished thanks to a grant of just over £16,500 from the Foundation for Sports and the Arts and the auditorium stage floor was replaced by an enthusiastic band of volunteers. The Quay further enhanced its reputation by participating in the Talbot Tour - a tourist initiative designed to show the public the working history of Sudbury. The Quay finished the year with a deficit of £4,500, the smallest deficit in recent years.
Through many changes of Directors, staff, volunteers and financial fortunes since 2000, The Quay has constantly striven to progress and improve its facilities for the Sudbury community, with considered programming and diverse societies always at the heart of its ongoing plan to offer the best little theatre in East Anglia, with SDS, SMS and many other groups playing a vital role in its ongoing successes.
From a run-down building by a rubble-filled section of water in the middle of Sudbury's derelict gasworks in 1977, the restored Quay building is now one of the town's showpieces, and is offering a wide range of high quality services and performances to its surrounding community and never, ever resting on its laurels...
More to follow...