Oldham Coliseum theatre to re-open after famous friends help save it

  • ITV Granada Reports correspondent Mel Barham spoke to those who helped save the theatre

A troubled theatre is to re-open after being closed for more than a year following an intense campaign fronted by former Coronation Street actor Julie Hesmondhalgh.

Hundreds of protesters including other North West acting stars voiced their support to save Oldham's Coliseum Theatre after Arts Council England cut its grant to the venue, labelling it "high risk".

The theatre, on Fairbottom Street, closed its doors in March 2023 just months after the announcement.

Later that year, Oldham Council's leader said the Coliseum theatre building could not have been saved and it had reached an agreement with the theatre "more than 10 years ago" that the building was "not fit for purpose".

Julie Hesmondhalgh has campaigned for the Coliseum to stay open Credit: PA Images

The closure resulted in 70 redundancies of staff, while plans for a new venue in the town centre’s 'Cultural Quarter' were announced, scheduled to open in 2026.

A group of stars of stage and screen responded by writing a letter to The Stage - an online site for UK theatre and performing arts - protesting that the Coliseum should be saved.

Famous names who added their support to the letter included Julie Hesmondhalgh, Jim Broadbent, Dame Maureen Lipman, Christopher Eccleston, Maxine Peake, Sue Johnston, Barbara Knox MBE and Sally Dynevor.

Members of the audience at a public meeting to save the historic Oldham Coliseum in Greater Manchester Credit: Equity/PA

The plan had been to close the theatre and build a new smaller arts centre across town, but Oldham Council has now reversed the decision after listening to locals.

Reacting to the news, Julie Hesmondhalgh says the theatre can be part of Oldham's future and not just its past.

"I can't begin to tell you what an incredible moment this is," she said. "It's a moment we didn't think could happen."

Oldham Council leader Arooj Shah said: "It's just the right thing to do, and sometimes to make decisions you have to lead with your finger on the pulse do the right thing by people, and that's what we did, we listened."

A new seven-strong board was appointed for Oldham Coliseum Theatre Ltd and announced ambitions to "preserve" and "revitalise" the auditorium, extending it to include an expanded foyer, backstage area, and café-bar space while creating studios and rehearsal spaces.

Jane Barker is one of those who spear-headed the campaign, creating the Save Oldham Coliseum group.

"I sat upstairs in the circle when the last curtain came down and it was really, really emotional, and you just think I'm never going to see anything here again," she said.

"But it's difficult to put into words but I haven't taken the smile off my face since I heard the news."

An Arts Council England spokesperson said: “At Arts Council England, 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, delivered by partners including Oldham Coliseum Theatre Limited and Oldham Theatre Workshop.

“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."