Around 35 years ago, a community group launched an audacious bid to raise half-a-million pounds to transform the then-dilapidated former cinema in Alnwick.
Under the leadership of the Duke of Northumberland’s land agent Bill Hugonin, the Alnwick District Playhouse Trust applied for numerous grants and held a host of events, including discos, afternoon teas and even a 24-hour pianothon.
Eventually, after a huge effort, the money was collected, the balcony area of the cinema was converted and, in December 1990, the new Playhouse Theatre opened.
The Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) were already resident in the lower part of the building after Alnwick District Council bought it for £30,000 and gifted it to them.
Now, with the future of the popular venue part of a county council masterplan for a community hub, the Playhouse Trust has launched another fund-raising campaign for £800,000 to refit the auditorium and other areas of the theatre for the 21st century.
The project as a whole will cost £3.3million, the bulk of which is being financed by the county. But the Playhouse needs to find the balance. Initially, the fund-raising team will target trusts, foundations and grants, before a public appeal is launched once the Playhouse is closed for the work to begin.
The Gazette recognises how vital the Playhouse is for all the towns and villages in north Northumberland and will be media partner during this latest cash crusade. You’ll read about all the important stages and dates first in the Gazette.
As theatre manager Jo Potts said: “The main programme will finish on August 2 in preparation for a major re-development project. The Playhouse will sadly close for re-development, however, the project will save, restore and improve our much-loved building for future generations to enjoy.”
Jo has been in the role since August 2011, joining at a time when the theatre had just lost £40,000 Arts Council funding.
“It has always been a challenge, particularly with the state of the building. People do not realise how close we have been to closing, but it has been down to the tenacity of our staff that we have kept going. It can be very stressful, particularly when the electrics fail.
“The winters are the worst times, so this re-development project can’t come soon enough.”
In her time at the Playhouse, Jo has strengthened the business model, introducing streaming, the café and a new box-office line, among many other features.
“The building was very much the next step, because the building was going to close us. We have just spent a substantial amount of money repairing a part of the roof that was leaking,” said Jo.
“We are very positive about the changes – it’s going to be bigger and better – and we are looking forward to working in a building that’s fit-for-purpose.”
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