The legacy of St Neots’ Lord of the Manor Peter Rowley has been officially launched amid a night of celebration at the venue that bears his name.
A £1 million donation from the landowner, playwright, author and critic kickstarted the Rowley Arts Centre project that has now evolved into the £8m Cineworld leisure complex at the heart of the town.
While his death last year meant he was unable to see his vision come to fruition, the spirit of Mr Rowley was in full swing on Thursday night as his family joined a series of special guests in celebrating the project’s completion.
The St Neots Players were the first to tread the boards on the new stage, while a new plaque was unveiled in Mr Rowley’s honour in front of guests including his widow Terez and daughter Caroline.
They were joined by local dignitaries, community groups and others who had been invovled in the project.
The Rowley Screen within Cineworld is now available to local performing arts groups and for use as a wider arts venue, with a specially fitted lighting rig – the only one at any Cineworld across the country.
“No one threw more enthusiasm into the project than Peter and Terez,” said local councillor and fellow driving force behind the project Barry Chapman.
“The first public meeting to determine the future of the centre and how the £1 million donation should be spent was hugely well attended.
“After four years, when others would have been disheartened, they stuck with it, always interested in what could be tried next, offering fresh ideas and remembering the residents who turned out at that first meeting”.
Mr Rowley formerly owned the land which was to become the Love’s Farm housing estate. Much of the money from that sale went towards the cinema development.
He was also an avid writer and playwright, and some of his productions were performed at St Neots’ Priory Centre.
Glenys Shaw directed a version of ‘Mother Figure’ by Alan Ayckbourn for the St Neots Players, the first show to be performed on the new stage.
She said: “Peter was a great supporter of theatre. He would have loved this place and would have loved to see what it has become.
“Everyone really enjoyed it, we had some really lovely comments. For community groups, especially singing groups, this place will be a great new facility.”
The complex opened earlier this year after years of work by Turnstone Estates.
Chris Goldsmith, managing director of Turnstone Estates, said: “It was Peter’s vision to provide St Neots with a performing arts facility and there were many people involved in catching the ball that Peter threw and seeing this project through to fruition.
“We are delighted his wife Terez and daughter Caroline could be with us this evening and unveil the plaque which will be dedicated in Peter’s memory.”