The future of the arts scene in Alnwick and the wider area looks rosy after a deal was struck for the Playhouse to become a community hub.
An agreement in principle has been reached by the three main players, who have variously described it as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’, ‘great news for the town’ and helping to ‘ensure the future of professional touring theatre in the area for the next decade’.
It has also been revealed that the Playhouse has landed a major grant for a programme for young people.
The planned arrangement for the future of the building will see it continue to be a theatre, while Northumberland County Council (NCC) will use part of the building to provide a library, tourist information and front-office facilities.
It will continue to be called Alnwick Playhouse.
The council has worked out a deal with both the Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) and Alnwick District Playhouse Trust – the co-owners of the building.
The trustees and management of the Playhouse will continue to have autonomous control of the artistic programme and access to all those parts of the building it currently leases.
The Trust’s chairman, Roy Todd, said: “The county council fully supports the work of the Playhouse Trust and the new arrangement will bring significant benefits in the form of a substantial investment in the building.
“Some of these benefits include the refurbishment of the auditorium, a service lift to provide modern, acceptable access to the stage for ‘get-ins’ and the exclusive use of the Studio space for further developmental work with young people.
“Northumberland County Council operations in the Playhouse will lead to an increased footfall which can only benefit and sustain the work of the Trust.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide the town with an amenity which will serve its several needs.”
The changes require the NTC to relocate to a new base, but the chairman of the board of directors, Bryan Ellis, described it as ‘a fair deal’.
He said: “Northumberland Theatre Company is sad to be leaving the Playhouse some 38 years after its purchase saved the building for the district of Alnwick, however, the agreement reached with NCC does ensure the future of professional touring theatre in the area for the next decade.
“We are looking forward to announcing an exciting new venue for the company in the near future and continuing to demonstrate Northumberland’s artistic creativity on the wider stage of the UK.
“We will of course maintain our long tradition of bringing live professional theatre to communities in the north that do not have ready access to theatre and performance.
“The support of NCC will enable us to continue our work in an increasingly difficult funding environment, supporting as we do new local writers and young actors setting out on their careers.”
The council confirmed the deal will include the repair and refurbishment of the Playhouse to provide a modern, multi-purpose building.
Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “This is great news for the town and will improve what the Playhouse offers, both for local residents and visitors.
“We fully appreciate that the Playhouse is one of the most well-loved buildings in Alnwick and we want to ensure we add to what’s on offer.
“The plan is it will become a real one-stop shop where people can not only book tickets and see productions, but also use the building during the day to use the library facilities, provide information for visitors or pay bills.
“We also appreciate the support from both Trusts in coming to this agreement, which will secure the future of the Playhouse for years to come.”
Proposals along these lines were first announced last March as part of a council review of buildings in the county’s main towns. In Alnwick, money is also being spent on the Northumberland Hall.