A public drop in session to share details of the project to restore and reinvigorate the Theatre Royal in Margate will take place on Thursday 7 December between 2pm and 7pm.
Thanet council is hosting the event, which will take place at the theatre in Addington Street, Margate, where people will be able to hear about proposals and view early plans to open the building at 19 Hawley Square as a theatrical production house. The event also marks the launch of the council’s search for a new operator for the theatre.
Boards will be on display showing the potential plans for the building. Members of the public will have the opportunity to meet and engage with the council’s project team and architects who will be on hand to answer questions. There will be an opportunity to give initial feedback about some of the information on display.
The council says proposals for the Theatre Royal combine heritage, performance and a move towards financial sustainability. It focuses on the venue’s 245 years of performance heritage, bringing together the need to conserve, restore and modernise both the theatre and 19 Hawley Square.
The council says the ambition is to create a nationally significant performing arts hub in Margate; the plans are designed to increase the artistic and financial opportunities to support the historic theatre and to raise the profile of performing arts in the district.
This includes developing 19 Hawley Square to include a bar and cafe, 50 seat studio theatre, sound recording studio, rehearsal rooms/dance studio, offices and accommodation for touring theatre companies.
The Theatre Royal project has been allocated £2.2m of funding as part of the £22m Margate Town Deal. In June this year Thanet council said urgent repairs were expected to cost £370,000 for minor roof work, removal of the asbestos stage curtain, and fire protection measures and the provision of a proper ventilation system.
Other structure works including; window repairs and decorations, plastering in lime plaster where plaster has failed, and ceiling repairs were estimated at £400,000.
The discovery earlier this year of a ‘sun burner’ in the ceiling of the theatre means a masterplan will need to be drawn up to examine how the historic building will be ventilated.
Sun burners were manufactured in the Victorian era as a means of both gas lighting and ventilating larger public and occasionally private, buildings. The discovery meant an overall masterplan is required with conservation principles applied to safeguard the heritage of the theatre.
Significant funding from external sources will be needed to complete the theatre project. An application is in process for a further £3.2m from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The council is also in conversation with the Arts Council regarding the possibility of applying to the Department of Culture Media and Sport’s Cultural Development Fund, which will be launched in 2024.
Cllr Ruth Duckworth, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Property, said: “The Theatre Royal is an important historic performance asset, and plays a key role in Margate’s leisure offering. The project to restore and relaunch it is highly ambitious, and it will not be possible without the support of other major funders, an operator with vision and resources, and the support of the community.
“The Theatre Royal has the potential to provide employment and training opportunities for young people in performing arts and creative careers. It is a truly unique heritage stage and I would love to see homegrown talent performing in high quality, locally made productions, as well as visiting national and international theatre productions.”
Following the event, the information boards will remain on display in poster sites on the exterior of the Theatre Royal. It will be possible to submit feedback and thoughts on the potential plans between Thursday 7 and Wednesday 20 December, both online at Your Voice Thanet and via paper surveys. Paper surveys will be available in the reception area of the council offices at Cecil Square in Margate, between Friday 8 and Wednesday 20 December, from 10am to 4pm.
The council will be testing the market for a new operator within the performing arts sector. Prospective operators will be invited to register their interest shortly.
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.
Thanet council initially 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.
Your Leisure took the site on in what was supposed to be an interim measure but had been running it up until the closure in April 2022. All staff were made redundant and they formed Phoenix Community Events.
Theatre Royal is the second oldest working theatre in the country and has 465 seats. The building is currently on the Theatres at Risk Register.
In April Thanet council was awarded £10,000 of grant funding from the Theatres Trust towards the Margate Theatre Royal project.
The funding, from the Resilient Theatres: Resilient Communities project, is in recognition of Theatre Royal’s heritage and ‘at risk’ status.