A tale of two theatres - Images released of proposed new theatre in Oldham as former faces closure

Oldham council release images of what a proposed new theatre in Oldham would look like. Credit: Oldham council

Plans for a new theatre have been unveiled in Oldham at the same time as one of the UK's oldest venues, also in the town, fights closure.

The £24 million new theatre, which would form a key part of the new-look town centre - would include a new 300 to 250-seater auditorium, along with a smaller 120-seater studio.

It is expected a planning committee will recommit to building the new theatre as well as formally accept funding of £1.845m from Arts Council England, for cultural activities in the borough while the new theatre in built.

But there is controversy after Oldham's Coliseum Theatre is being forced to close following the Arts Council withdrawing its funding.

The Council says the new £24m theatre will revitalise Oldham’s cultural offer, create additional jobs and attract visitors to town centre Credit: Oldham Council

The council, who will discuss the plans at a Cabinet meeting on Monday 27 February, say the new theatre will provide a more modern, accessible venue for performers and audiences from Oldham and beyond.

It will also provide enhanced back-stage facilities, additional education, event and rehearsal spaces, and better front-of house facilities including bar and cafe areas.

But the announcement comes on the same day as campaigners hold a crisis meeting to try and save the original theatre - one of the oldest venues in the UK.

Oldham's Coliseum announced on 14 February that it would officially shut after its funding was cut. Credit: ITV News

The council say the new theatre is on target to be open by 2026.

Cllr Amanda Chadderton, Leader of Oldham Council, said: “After the really sad news from the Coliseum in recent weeks, it's great to see such a positive step forward for the future of arts and culture here in Oldham.

"It's so exciting to see what our theatre will look like and how architects have translated the plans we’ve worked up with our partners for a brilliant new space, in the heart of our emerging cultural quarter.

“This fantastic new theatre will offer performers, staff, and audiences a great experience as well as revitalising our cultural offer, creating jobs and adding to the buzz of a vibrant town centre where people want to live, work and visit."

Plans for the new theatre are at an advanced stage, with a planning application to be submitted by this summer. Credit: Oldham Council

Oldham Coliseum announced they would be forced to officially shut on Friday 31 March after news its funding will be cut by the Arts Council from 1 April 2023.

A crisis meeting is being held on Tuesday evening, by campaigners battling to save the Coliseum.

Award-winning actress Maxine Peake, who is one of many famous faces to have graced the Coliseum stage, will be at the meeting lending her support.

Actress Maxine Peake is lending her support to the campaign to save the Coliseum

In a statement the Board of Trustees said: "It is with great regret therefore that we announce that we have entered into a consultation period with all staff and it is proposed that Oldham Coliseum Theatre will close its doors on, Friday 31 March 2023.

"The coliseum is working with the Arts Council England and Oldham Council to ensure a smooth transition period for the company, including funding to enable support for our workforce and honouring commitment to artists."

But the council say plans for the new venue are at an advanced stage, with a planning application to be submitted by this summer.

The proposals, the council say, have been developed by members of the current Oldham Coliseum Board and other cultural organisations, with support from the Arts Council.

Leader of Oldham Council, Amanda Chadderton speaks to ITV's Granada Reports:

Cllr Amanda Chadderton added: “Like nearly everyone else in Oldham I was devastated to hear the Coliseum proposes to close the doors for good.

"This makes it all the more important that our plans for a new theatre continue at pace; and we do still hope there can be a role for the Coliseum in this future.

“It was always the plan that the Coliseum would leave Fairbottom Street and take performances on the road to maintain and build audiences while we built the new theatre.

"The current building is at the end of its life, and performers, staff and audiences deserve better.

“We have a fantastic future for arts and performance here in our new theatre, building on our fantastic arts heritage, which the Coliseum and cultural partners have been integral to designing.”

To access the Arts Council funding of £1.845m for arts and culture in the borough over the next three years, the Council must formally indicate its acceptance of this funding and recommit to the development of a new theatre for the borough.

At the Cabinet meeting, members are also set to agree the next steps for development, ahead of the planning application being submitted.

The council say that the theatre, designed in conjunction with the Coliseum and cultural partners has drawn in a range of expertise, including independent benchmarking against similar theatres in other places, to come up with plans for the new venue, near to the current library and Gallery Oldham.

It was intended to be a future home for the Coliseum, and they have worked in partnership on designs until their recent announcement that they propose to close at the end of March 2023 after being unsuccessful in retaining funding from the Arts Council England (ACE).

Along with Arts Council England funding, the Coliseum has had support of around £138,000 per year from Oldham Council, use of the theatre, office space and car park rent-free, and around £100,000 from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA).

In November 2022, ACE announced the Coliseum had been unsuccessful in retaining its status and funding as a National Portfolio Organisation, deeming it ‘high risk’ and referencing concerns about the theatre’s financial management, leadership and governance. 

This accounted for around a third of the Coliseum’s funding. Oldham Council has, with ACE, supported the Coliseum since the announcement as they worked through their challenges to re-work their programme and find a workable way forward.

Oldham Council say that recognising the love and loyalty that theatregoers have for the Oldham Coliseum name and history, the Council is continuing conversations with the Coliseum Board to try and retain some of the artistic legacy.

This is the building the council are hoping will become the town's new theatre Credit: ITV News

In a statement, Arts Council England told ITV News “Oldham Coliseum is a well-loved fixture in the town and understandably many people have strong feelings about the future of the theatre.

"Oldham Coliseum Ltd has been facing financial and governance challenges for some time and as guardians of public money we could not invest in an organisation which we assessed to be such a high risk.

"Their funding continues until the end of March after which we’ve agreed additional support of nearly £360,000 to help them with decisions about the future.

"Arts Council England is absolutely committed to supporting arts and culture for the people of Oldham, and we’re standing by our commitment to invest £1.85 million in performing arts in the town and overall our investment in the arts in Oldham will be higher than ever before.

"The Oldham Coliseum building, which is reaching its natural end, is owned by Oldham Council and has never been part of our funding to the company.

"We are fully behind the plans the Council shared today for a new performing space that will be informed by the legacy of the Oldham Coliseum and which will ensure there’s brilliant theatre in Oldham for people to enjoy for years to come."

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