It’s a landmark building many of us pass practically every day.
Once a focus of community life, St Annes Palace, in the very heart of town in Garden Street, has been a closed shop to the vast majority of the Fylde population for decades.
But now its doors are to be opened to the community – and everything from meetings and dinners to concerts, dances an exhibitions are set to be held at the venue which has been owned by Lytham St Annes Freemasons since 1958.
Offering some 2,000 sq ft of space above St Annes Market Hall, the aim is for the Palace to also be licensed for weddings, while a group newly set up to promote its use also sees it as an ideal location for the receptions to follow and a wide range of other events.
The Friends of St Annes Palace is a joint venture between the Freemasons and representatives of the local community, consisting of 14 trustees with the aim of promoting the premises as a community hub.
With an open day to spotlight the facilities available set for early next month, charitable status has been applied for and the Friends aim to make the most of new rules, introduced less than two years ago, which allow such groups to charge for hire as long as the fees collected go back into the upkeep and improvement of the facilities concerned.
“The intention is for the Friends to be a charitable incorporated organisation, which is a new form of legal entity designed for non-profit organisations in the UK,” said Friends chairman John Burgess.
“We have a wealth of wonderful rooms here in an ideal location at the heart of town and we really want the community to make the most of them.
“I have been in the Freemasons for 50 years or so myself and for much of that time the interior of this building has been a complete mystery to most people, which I think is criminal.
“In the early part of the last century, the building was originally the St Annes Public Hall and Assembly Rooms so the intention is that it can go back to its roots.
“The key objective is the provision of a community hub within space and facilities which can support multifunctional community group use, including health, leisure, educational activities, a meeting point venue, a community information centre, wedding and funeral receptions, exhibitions and a dining and cafe venue.”
The Public Hall and Assembly Rooms was the first large-scale entertainment building at a time when St Annes was little more than a quarter century old and very much a growing town.
Soon afterwards, it became the Public Hall Picturedome and by 1922, was extended to the Palace Cinema and Cafe, including a ballroom, concert hall and restaurant, and was a focus of community life for many years afterwards.
Prime among the rooms to be made available for use now is the main hall, which offers a capacity of 150, while there is a range of other smaller rooms which the Friends feel would be ideal for all sorts of meetings and events.
Already using one of the rooms with a capacity between 50 and 100 are the Just Good Friends companions’ organisation, which has seen membership flourish since being formed just over two years ago.
“We were looking for a new venue and the Palace is ideal,” said Just Good Friends founder Bev Sykes, who is among the trustees of the Friends of the St Annes Palace.
“These facilities being made available and having them all under one roof is going to make a massive difference to the community. Up to now, potential meeting places in the area have been so scattered.
“Just Good Friends loves using the space and we have already been able already to look at extending our activities to ballroom dancing and keep fit sessions.
“Everywhere should have a community hub such as The Palace.”
John added: “The Freemasons is the second biggest generator of money to charities after the National Lottery and I have long been a believer that we should be more open about what we do. For too long, there had been an air of mystery about the Freemasons generally which thankfully now is a thing of the past.
“The general attitude within the organisation has changed and the aim is to be much more part of the community.
“Here in Fylde, as membership has declined in recent years, the Freemasons has looked at possibly moving to alternative premises but decided to stay here and make the most of these wonderful facilities.
“But it’s not about making money. The whole point of the formation of the Friends is to reinvest in this historic building as it is returned to the heart of the community.”
In addition to the open day, to be held on Saturday, February 7 from 10am to 4pm and to be opened by singer Anne Nolan, a community information board on which groups can promote events and their work will also be placed in St Annes Market, which is also part of the Palace building owned by the Freemasons.
Details about hiring rooms at the Palace are available from John Burgess on 07899 604657, while for more on the open day, or to book a stand, contact Bev Sykes on 07557 734233.