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Work starts on Archive Centre

Building work has begun on a new home for Britten’s archive at The Red House

Image: Heather Grant, Colin Matthews and Rita Thomson break ground for the new Archive Centre now being built at The Red House. Photo: Alan Howard/RG Carter Building. On 22 November the Britten–Pears Foundation (BPF) reached an important milestone in its plans to celebrate Benjamin Britten’s centenary in 2013: breaking ground for a new Archive Centre that will keep the composer’s uniquely comprehensive archive in the place where he lived and worked – The Red House in Aldeburgh.

The groundbreaking ceremony was performed by three people who knew Britten well: Heather Grant (left), the current housekeeper, who this year celebrates fifty years working at The Red House; Rita Thomson (right), who nursed Britten and also Pears in their last years, and lived in The Red House until 2000; and Colin Matthews, the composer, who was Britten’s music assistant and is now BPF’s Director of Music. Musical accompaniment was provided by members of Farlingaye High School’s Chamber Choir, singing the theme from A boy was born. The 22 November date was - of course - significant, being Britten’s birthday and also the feast day of St Cecilia, patron saint of music.

The new building, which has been four years in the planning, has been designed by Stanton Williams, who have just won the Gold Award in the BD Architect of the Year Awards 2011.  The main contractor is RG Carter Building. The Archive Centre will open in June 2013, at the start of that year’s Aldeburgh Festival.

As well as providing a purpose-built home for Britten’s internationally important archive, the new building will allow the existing Red House site to be opened up to visitors as never before.  BPF has received an award of £1.4m from the Heritage Lottery Fund for an ambitious scheme to restore Britten’s composing studio and to create a permanent exhibition about the man and his music. These new visitor facilities will also open to the public in June 2013.

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Theme from 'A boy was born' sung by Farlingaye Chamber Choir at the groundbreaking