Plans for new trust to run and manage Margate’s Theatre Royal and 19 Hawley Square

Early design for the Theatre Royal by Lee Evans Partnership

Thanet council’s Cabinet members are due to review a recommendation to set up a new independent charitable trust to operate Margate’s Theatre Royal and 19 Hawley Square.

In March 2021, £2.2million was allocated to the Theatre Royal project from the £22.2m Margate Town Deal. Since then, a proposal has been created focusing on the Theatre Royal’s 245 years of history.

Thanet council says this combines heritage, performance and a move towards financial sustainability. The vision reflects the need to conserve, restore and modernise both the theatre and 19 Hawley Square. The aim is to create a ‘nationally significant performing arts hub’ in Margate.

The proposals were shared in a survey and at public and stakeholder engagement events in December 2023 which reached over 19,000 people.

Nick Lee Evans

Initial designs presented by Nick Lee Evans, a Specialist Conservation Architect from Lee Evans Partnership, showed an extension to the Addington Street theatre building, widened pavement, reinstated signage and a new box office entrance.

For the five floor building in Hawley Square designs show rehearsal space in the basement; on the ground floor plans show a studio theatre for 50 people, sound studio, green room, bar and coffee area; first floor plan show offices, meeting spaces and a roof garden and, on the two upper floors, accommodation for the theatre companies.

The Hawley Square venue, which was believed to have historically been The London Hotel, will also have offices and accommodation for touring theatre companies.

A projected reopening date was set for May 2027.

The council has applied to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Cultural Development Fund. The latter is administered by Arts Council England, on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. If successful, the applications will mean a further £7.5million in funding.

It will support refurbishment and redevelopment of Theatre Royal and 19 Hawley Square as a performing arts hub.

If approved by Cabinet, a new charitable entity will be designed and set up. The recommended model prioritises local engagement and partnerships.

Thanet council says the focus will be on cultural, heritage and socio-economic, legal and governance rather than profit and this significantly increases the likelihood of securing the £7.5million capital and revenue funding.

It means the council could pass on programming and engagement requirements, which are conditions of receiving external funding.

In January 2024, early engagement with 16 potential operators took place. The viability of the recommendations was tested with them. It has also been feasibility tested by external specialists, and consultation has been undertaken with potential funders.

Cllr Ruth Duckworth, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Property, said: “The Theatre Royal in Margate is a unique theatre with an impressive 245 year heritage. This is recognised by the Theatres Trust which has included it on its ‘theatres at risk’ list.

“The scope of the refurbishment project is undeniably ambitious, but if external funding can be secured, I believe that it is achievable, and promises a long and successful future for both the theatre and 19 Hawley Square. I look forward to reviewing the proposals with Cabinet.”

A trust could provide high quality programmes, marketing and audience development proposals, maintenance proposals and an investment or fundraising programme.

The trust would also develop educational programmes, outreach work and other community activities.

If agreed, the trust would operate all functions within the venue for a period of at least 10 years. This would include everything from venue programming, ticketing, to technical and facilities management.

The road to renovation

Image Thanet council

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.

Theatre Royal (Image Thanet council heritage statement)

Before closure, the Theatre attracted some 36,000 ticket sales annually (including 11,000 for the pantomime) from 168 performances, generating income of £106k.

Currently the theatre has 465 seats (stalls, circle and gallery), with several small bars and WC’s  around the building, and a small box office area. Back of the house hosts five dressing rooms with capacity for 29, two unisex toilets and a shower. There is no separate greenroom. The stage measures 9.3m by 6.3m, with fly space and 2.4m by 1.6m level stage access for get-in.

 

3 Comments

  1. The redundant staff could have set up a Charitable Trust in 2007, just like they did for the Sarah Thorne Theatre which is still going strong, but were denied the opportunity by Thanet District Council.

  2. More half baked plans from the regeneration team! Has any of their other announced projects come to fruition yet or even been started? Millions of pounds are currently being sat on without anyone starting any work all the while assets are rotting due to lack of care and attention. All the schemes announced have office space for rent but who is going to rent all this new office space when so much current office space (and retail space) sits empty. If there was 16 expressions of interest on this scheme let one of them take it on and move on to starting other announced projects or maybe focus on saving the high streets.

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