Campaigners chant 'hands off Oldham' at public meeting to save theatre
Maxine Peake hailed local theatres as the "lifeblood" of communities as she spoke at a public meeting to save the historic Oldham Coliseum.
The actress was one of several famous faces that appeared to speak at the event on Tuesday, 21 February, following announcements by Arts Council England (ACE) that funding for the venue would be cut.
Representatives for ACE were invited to the meeting but did not attend, with a symbolic empty chair placed on stage.
Oldham Coliseum, which was first built in 1885, now faces closure at the end of March.
In a short speech, Peake, who is originally from Bolton, said that watching theatre had given her "inspiration to be braver".
"It's all about community and it's about what this theatre means to Oldham," she told attendees.
"When I was a young actor, actors from Oldham gave me inspiration, it made me think 'you can do it'.
"There was this amazing talent with this theatre in the centre of it...and there's a saying 'if you can't see it, you can't be it'. It's about what spaces like this give to the audiences that come in."
She continued: "As humans we need to eat and we need to heat, we need a roof over our head but we also all need witnesses.
"Storytelling is so important to our being, to be in stories, to witness stories, to share our experiences.
"As we have a government that is further and further dividing communities...theatres have become community centres.
"Even if I hadn't been an actor, it gave me inspiration in my life to be braver, and watching theatre gives me inspiration to be braver."
Oldham Council recently announced plans for a new theatre in the borough, reportedly costing £24 million, which is scheduled to open in 2026.
"I feel very honoured to be able to speak tonight for this theatre, we have got to save it," Peake said.
"They've got to pull their finger out, this is not good enough - a three year wait? No way.
"Art should not be for the elite, it should be for everybody."
Peake, who is known for shows including Dinnerladies, Silk and Shameless, later led a chant of "hands off Oldham".
The Arts Council has been empty chaired at a public meeting to save the historic Oldham Coliseum theatre.
The theatre, which dates back to 1885, is supported through Arts Council funding but has recently had its budget slashed, and now faces closure at the end of March.
Speakers at the event, which was held at the venue on Tuesday, included actress Maxine Peake, playwright Ian Kershaw, Paul Hilton and Zoe Iqbal, as well as Paul Liversey, north west regional official for Equity - who organised the event.
"While Oldham Council's recommitment to building a new theatre is positive news, it still does not address the immediate problems that come with the Coliseum's closure on April 1," Mr Liversey said in a statement.
"These include the redundancies faced by Equity members who work there, alongside the fact that until the opening of the new venue - scheduled for 2026, so at least three years from now - there will be no theatre in the borough.
"This will create a vacuum of arts access in Oldham, with the community left without a producing theatre to nurture the creation of new writing and performing arts, alongside proper union jobs.
"We call on Arts Council England and Oldham Council to release details about the arts provision planned for Oldham in the years before the opening of the new theatre and, if these do not include the existence of a producing theatre, to save Oldham Coliseum."
However, performing arts and entertainment trade union Equity has called a meeting to allow members of the public to question decision-makers and suggest solutions to keep the 135-year-old Coliseum open.
In a statement Arts Council England said:
"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 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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