A BELOVED art gallery which was forced into closure by the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic is “unlikely” to reopen its doors until 2023.

The Minories, in East Hill, was closed on financial grounds by Colchester Institute.

The college still has three years of its lease to run, but had been subsidising the gallery from its core funding for a number of years.

The Minories building is owned by charity the Victor Batte Lay Foundation, which was created to buy the Grade II listed premises for the purpose of an art gallery.

The foundation’s secretary Tom Fenton said it is “unlikely” the building will be used as an arts centre until Colchester Institute’s lease expires in May 2023.

He added the time is being used to make “much-needed” repairs to the building.

He said: “Given the nature of the building, it is unlikely that it will be opened while the Covid risk is still around.

“The Minories is not an accessible building, we have been conscious of this for years.

“This unexpectedly extended period when it may not be practical to reopen gives us a chance to address that problem too, and make the building more fit for the future.”

Mr Fenton said the foundation is not asking for expressions of interest and is instead looking at the possibility of reopening the Minories as an arts centre and gallery when the current lease expires.

A public appeal for funding, with the aim of looking ahead to a 2023 reopening, will soon be launched.

“As far as I am aware we have had a couple of general inquiries, one about opening a café and another about an arts project, but neither came with any formal proposal,” said Mr Fenton.

“The trustees will be spending the next few months examining the possibility of running the Minories as an arts centre and gallery from May 2023 when the lease expires.

“There is a mountain of work to do for this, including reports from surveyors, architects and engineers, as well as discussions with a wide range of stakeholders.

“It is all going to cost a lot of money, so we shall soon be launching a major appeal to fund the project.”

A petition started with the hopes of seeing the building put back into use has reached 7,000 signatures.

The petition calls on Colchester Council to do everything possible to save the gallery.

A council spokesman said while the authority does not own the Minories, it is committed to supporting “all partners”.

Julie Young, councillor responsible for culture, said: “Losing the Minories is a major blow to our arts and culture, which is why we will continue to do what we can.”