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.
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.
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.
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.