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This Britain

Arts world celebrates as work finally starts to revive the Roundhouse

The venue made famous by seminal performances by Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd is to be resurrected, 21 years after closing its doors.

Work started yesterday on a £28m regeneration of the Roundhouse in Camden, north London, which hosted the Doors' only UK gig.

Juliet Stevenson, the actress; Nick Mason of Pink Floyd; Suggs of Madness and the film director Terry Gilliam - all with strong north London ties - wore hard hats to get the building under way. The aim is to create a state-of-the-art centre to train stars of the future and present today's big names.

The central auditorium - where Anthony Hopkins and Marianne Faithfull once appeared in Tony Richardson's Hamlet and where the police raided the show Oh! Calcutta! to investigate the nudity - will again play host to circuses and physical theatre companies such as Complicite.

Up to 10,000 13- to 25-year-olds will get the chance each year to develop their own creative skills in fully-equipped TV and radio studios and rehearsal rooms.

The rescue plans have been years in development. Stevenson, who first went to the Roundhouse when she was a student at Rada, said she had long "lived in terror that someone would get their hands on it and turn it into a shopping mall".

Instead, after years of ambitious schemes that never got off the ground, the Roundhouse was bought in 1996 for about £3m by Torquil Norman, a wealthy toy manufacturer.

He developed a dual-purpose vision for the building to incorporate an educational element. It was based partly on his concern that modern schooling was sacrificing creativity for success in examinations. "It seemed a quixotic voyage in the beginning," he admitted yesterday.

Nick Mason, who performed there with Pink Floyd in 1966, said: "With Torquil it has a long-term future and [it] is probably the best thing that could happen." Stevenson hopes to perform there when the work is done and the venue - with new bars, restaurants and a studio theatre - reopens next year.

But she said it was the "visionary" space for young people that made it more than just another conventional arts centre. "We know the world is full of new young talent, but there aren't a lot of places for that talent to be focused and directed," she said.

Whether it can ever recapture its glory days remains to be seen. Certainly everyone who could remember its heyday grew misty-eyed yesterday.

Terry Gilliam recalled that some of his fondest memories were Roundhouse shows when he first arrived from America in the 1960s. Suggs, who lived in Camden from the age of 12, saw Ian Dury at the Roundhouse and met his wife there.

The Roundhouse was built as a steam-engine repair shed in 1846. It is now Grade II* listed and the restoration plans are supported by English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund. A further £4m is needed to complete the project.