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Friday, 19 May, 2006

Supporters of an historic Suffolk theatre have taken a giant step forward, raising £25,000 towards its restoration.

Derek Blake and Simon Spence have spent the last month walking 387 miles across England to raise funds for the £5.1 million renovation project at the Theatre Royal, in Bury St Edmunds.

The two theatre board members were joined by more than 100 supporters on the last leg of their walk from Icklingham to Bury on Saturday.

Mr Blake, 59, suggested the idea.

He said: "We both have mixed feelings over finishing because we saw some wonderful sights and had some strange experiences on the way.

"On the third day we were caught in a snow blizzard on the Pennines and a bridge across the Trent which was on our map simply wasn't there so we had to quickly find a boat.

"I can't think of any better way to help restore such an elegant building to its Georgian splendour."

Mr Spence, a Bury based barrister, said: "This walk has been such a huge part of our lives since we started planning it in September.

"We are very pleased to have helped the theatre, which receives such tremendous support from so many people."

Dozens of people joined two walkers for the last leg, including David Ruffley MP and restoration appeal board member Sir Jeremy Isaacs.

Sir Jeremy, former chief executive of Channel Four, said: "It is wonderful to see so many people waking on such a fine day.

"It just shows the genuine community spirit there is among the Theatre Royal lovers and, in my eyes, Mr Blake and Mr Spence are true heroes."

The sponsored walk started outside another Theatre Royal- in Richmond, Yorkshire.

The appeal, which was launched two-and-half-years ago, only needs another £300,000 to reach its target.