Next steps for Theatre Royal approved but planned bid to Arts Council fund unsuccessful

Theatre Royal Photo Sheradon Dublin

An ‘expression of interest’ to Arts Council England, which would have led to a bid for funding as part of the project to reopen and revive Margate’s Theatre Royal, has been unsuccessful.

The aim was to gain a grant from the Cultural Development Fund for the Theatre Royal and Cliftonville Cultural Space (former Shul in Albion Road) with the ambition of developing a performing arts hub across Margate.

The Cultural Development funding would have been used to improve engagement and outreach; and link residents to growing performing arts provision.

The idea was for the Theatre Royal to be the anchor of a performing arts cluster. As the Theatre has some space challenges, incorporating the Cliftonville Cultural Space would have enabled access to space and also be used to improve the food and drink offer, use rehearsal and studio space in Cliftonville and encourage community engagement with theatre and performance from Margate’s most deprived communities.

But, Thanet council deputy leader Reece Pugh told a Cabinet meeting last night (September 22): “The expression of interest to the Arts Council has not been successful. We will, however, be talking to the Arts Council and considering other mechanisms for public and private sector investment.”

Plans for the future of Margate’s Theatre Royal include marketing it with neighbouring 19 Hawley Square so facilities for food and drink can be created. The proposals are part of the £22.2 million Margate Town Deal with £2million of that fund allocated to the theatre. The Theatre Royal funding is due to be received by the end of this month.

Both the Theatre Royal and Margate Winter Gardens are shut while the future for the venues is examined. The Theatre Royal closed its doors on April 28 and the Winter Gardens followed suit last month.

A costed condition survey by Lee Evans Partnership carried out in 2021 reveals the theatre requires £2 million of necessary improvements to bring it up to modern standards, with £370,000 of this identified as urgent.

Theatre Royal Margate

The Margate Town Deal commitment of £2million will mean the work can be completed but will also be used as the match-funding requirement for a bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Thanet council says it is “seen as a five year project.”

The Theatre was bought by Thanet council as ‘owner of last resort’ in 2007. The building was shut for a six month refurb programme and all staff were made redundant. It was then leased back to the Margate Theatre Royal Trust on a peppercorn rent until 2012 when the Trust went into administration.

Your Leisure took the site on in what was supposed to be an interim measure but had been running it up until the closure last month. All staff were made redundant and they have formed Phoenix Community Events.

Thanet council bought 19 Hawley Square from Orbit Housing in 2011 with a view to expanding the Theatre’s facilities.

Historic venue Courtesy Theatre Royal Margate Archive

In 2014 Thanet council offered a long lease or freehold interest in the theatre, and buildings at 16a and 19 Hawley Square and there was an expression of interest from Soho Theatres.

Soho Theatres developed a bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund to deliver an improved theatre alongside community, food and beverage and hotel space at 19 Hawley Square. However, this bid fell through due to being at the end of the funding period although there was sufficient support for the idea.

Now Thanet council aims to make the theatre commercially viable once more.

It is the second oldest working theatre in the country and has 465 seats. The building is currently on the Theatres at Risk Register.

The Theatre Royal project will be carried out in phases.

Theatre Royal Photo Sheradon Dublin

The first stage, includes the use of the Margate Town Deal Funds to complete the urgent works costing £370,000 for minor roof repairs, removal of the asbestos stage curtain, and fire protection measures and the provision of a proper ventilation system.

Once the urgent works have been completed, the next step will be to complete other structure works including; window repairs and decorations, plastering in lime plaster where plaster has failed, and ceiling repairs to the value of £400,000.

The Theatre Royal and 19 Hawley Square will be marketed as a package to find an operator/commercial partner.

Cabinet members at last night’s meeting approved the next steps for urgent works and marketing for an operator and/or commercial investor. Part of the brief for investors/operators will be to work with local community groups and organisations.

8 Comments

  1. Far too much badly composed jargon, which might help attract funding, but tells us little about what they’re offering. “…the anchor of a performing arts cluster.” is what exactly?

    “As the Theatre has some space challenges, incorporating the Cliftonville Cultural Space would
    have enabled access to space” hints at tying funding for the Theatre Royal to Cliftonville Cultural Space, a building which is awaiting renovation and has no real history of events other than fundraising. Isn’t there a lot of available spaces, I see them offered all the time, which don’t need to be renovated before use?

    “…and encourage community engagement with theatre and performance from Margate’s most deprived communities.” sounds all tickety-boo, but how do they plan to do that? Is it really just limited to Margate?

  2. Cliftonville cultural space ,what’s that ,how would they improve the Theatre Royal,what kind of shows would they put on ,nothing about that there,all it would be was ,them most likely to claim grants off anyone to put arty shows and “cultural shows” that most people will not see if understand

  3. The ‘expression of interest’ seems to be trying to be too many things to limited groups of people. We do not have large groups of diverse communities in Thanet apart from Eastern Europe. In my experience the Arts Council can see through applications that are trying to achieve funding by stretching and fabricating a claim to be serving and supporting diverse cultures.
    It would have been more advisable to seek funding to preserve the culture of disappearing traditions and cultures of Musical traditions, end of the pier entertainments and lost music rather than lassooing everything on ethic cultures. Just my opinion.
    But really no excuse for failing to secure funding from the Arts Council, they need to liaise with Turner Contemporary and their funding administrator for advice.

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