The news that Oldham Council has decided to drop its support for a new Oldham Coliseum Theatre comes as the theatre’s long-serving Artistic Director announces he is leaving this month to go freelance.
Major doubts have been thrown over Oldham Coliseum’s move to a new £27m venue in the centre of the town after the local authority decided it would pull back from the project in order to spend funds more “wisely”. The plans had secured a £7.1m Arts Council England (ACE) grant in 2016.
Both the council and the theatre have stressed they remain committed to a theatre development project to provide a high-quality performance space in the town centre. Sean Fielding, Leader of Oldham Council, said the council will work with the Coliseum and ACE to draw up new plans for a “fit for purpose facility” over the next few months.
“A lot has changed since the idea was first discussed six years ago, including the costs involved, so at this stage we are not going to continue with the current proposals to build a new Coliseum on the Southgate Street site,” commented Fielding.
“In the current financial climate we’ve got to spend our funds wisely and that means reviewing our works and costs to ensure we get the best value for money for the taxpayers of the town.”
Construction was intended to start earlier this year on the project, which would have produced a 550-seat main auditorium, improved front of house facilities and introduced a new studio theatre.
The new Coliseum would have been an integral part of ongoing work on the Oldham Cultural Quarter, alongside Gallery Oldham and the Lifelong Learning Centre.
Oldham Council cabinet will meet later this month to consider new options for the future of the Coliseum, and to address further proposals for changes to the town centre – including the creation of the new Oldham Heritage and Arts Centre, to be based in the former Oldham Library.
Reflecting on the developments, Gail Richards, Chair of Oldham Coliseum, said: “We, along with Oldham Council and Arts Council England, are passionate about securing the future of theatre in Oldham.
“We are excited to be working with our partners on further developments, so that together we continue to provide access to a range of high-quality theatre, with learning and participatory activities for all, for the best possible value for money.”
Alison Clark, Director North, Arts Council England, said she recognised that it was “a difficult decision” to postpone the theatre capital project but was “pleased to see Oldham Council continue to support culture as part of its regeneration plans”.
The news of the postponed project came just days after Kevin Shaw, Artistic Director of Oldham Coliseum for the past 17 years, announced that he will be stepping down this month to take up a freelance directing career.
A spokesperson for the theatre told AP the departure was not connected to the capital project developments, but that the announcements had happened to come at the same time.
They added that the ongoing backing from ACE and the council means the project is “not necessarily on hold” but would end up being “slightly different” to original envisaged.