Community hub talks coming to a head now

Alnwick Playhouse.
Alnwick Playhouse.

Discussions over the creation of a community hub in Alnwick Playhouse, involving county-council investment of up to £1million, are at a key stage.

At Alnwick Town Council’s meeting last Thursday night, Paul Leo, Northumberland County Council’s head of strategic estates programme, said ‘intense discussions’ with the building’s owners ‘are coming to a head at the moment’.

And the estimated costs of this refurbishment – which the county council is funding – would be around £750,000, rising perhaps to £1million, subject to a condition survey which is taking place now.

The local authority has also had architects look at the building and they have determined that the proposals could be achieved.

Plans for a community hub, with library, tourist information and other front-office council facilities, in the Playhouse were first mooted 12 months ago.

The theatre is owned mainly by the Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) and partially by the Alnwick Playhouse Trust.

While the theatre/cinema would continue to operate as normal, the building’s extra uses would require that the NTC has another base for its storage, office requirements and rehearsals.

“Those converstations are coming to a head at the moment,” Mr Leo said.

“We are at the end of this financial year and there’s one more year until county council elections and to put it bluntly I worry about things getting put on hold prior to an election and another administration might want to put things on hold too.

“We are trying to push things forward as quickly as possible.”

The café would likely be extended and the aim would be to create a ‘gateway into the town’ with all of the services and facilities feeding off each other and ensuring the sustainability of them all.

Mr Leo explained that while not signed off yet, a memorandum of understanding is being drawn up that the hub set-up will work best under a single management structure.

l Refurbishment of the Northumberland Hall, also part of the county council’s property plans unveiled this time last year, is well underway with the main work being to replace the windows. It is due to be completed by the end of June.