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Oldham Coliseum is expected to reopen in time for the 2025 pantomime season after Oldham Council pledged £10m to refurbish the historic theatre. 

Protesters outside Oldham Coliseum
A flash mob outside Oldham Coliseum in November

Erin Wilson

Oldham Coliseum is set to reopen its doors after Oldham Council announced it will invest in refurbishing the building, it has been revealed.

The theatre, which is over 135 years old, closed last year after Oldham Coliseum Theatre Ltd lost all of its National Portfolio funding from Arts Council England in November 2022.

Oldham Council had begun to draft plans for a new theatre in the town but has now decided to invest £10m in the existing site instead, significantly less than the £24m estimated to construct a replacement venue.


The theatre is now expected to open again by Christmas 2025, when it will stage a pantomime as its first production.

Speaking to BBC Front Row, Oldham Council leader Arooj Shah, who wasn’t council leader at the time of the Coliseum’s closure, said that she “couldn’t ignore” the emotional connection and “outpouring of love” many local residents have for the Fairbottom Street site.

“I remember being really frustrated and cross at the time that I wasn’t in the room when decisions were being made,” Shah said. “There wasn’t a single time when I was canvassing as a politician that people didn’t mention their connection to it.”

Shah said the reopening will form part of Oldham’s regeneration plans, adding that “any place has to begin with arts and culture”.

“Of course you have to make sure it's sustainable, it's viable, and do all the checks and the numbers and they've been done, and we sit here really committed to this and also knowing it's possible.”

Shah also accepted that there are challenges with the current site, advising that there is asbestos on site and saying work needs to be done to make it accessible for disabled audiences. 

“But we’re ready and committed to do that,” she added. “This isn’t just an announcement, a lot of due diligence and assessments have been happening for the last 15 months.”

Oldham Council is expected to formally approve its plans to invest in refurbishing the theatre during its next cabinet meeting, scheduled for Monday (15 July).

‘Community coalition’

The news brings a successful resolution to the Save Oldham Coliseum campaign, led by actor Julie Hesmondhalgh and supported by other high profile names, as well as the performers' union Equity.

Hesmondhalgh said the announcement feels like “the start of a new, exciting era, one that has been driven by the people of Oldham”.

“Oldham Council has shown a fantastic commitment to re-opening the Coliseum, and by working together, we can really put arts and culture at the heart of a transformed town centre,” she added.

Equity General Secretary, Paul W Fleming, said the union is incredibly proud to be part of the coalition that has saved the venue.

“We’re proud to have played our part with rallies, campaigning, and lobbying, but today’s victory lies with that community coalition,” Fleming said. 

“What is so inspiring is that they have put the workforce at the heart of this campaign – audiences want professionally produced work, at scale, in their communities to tell their stories. Again, Arts Council England have huge questions to answer, but they should take this chance to step up and rethink their funding approach.”

An Arts Council England spokesperson told Arts Professional: “Our priority is to work with the people of Oldham to make sure that they have access to the art and theatre that they want - which is why we're investing £1.845 million over three years to support a creative and cultural programme in the borough.”

“While the coliseum building belongs to Oldham Council and isn’t funded by the Arts Council, we know what a well-lov­­ed landmark it is, and recognise its link to the strong history of theatre in the town, and the work the campaign group has been doing to preserve it,” the spokesperson added.