A deal has been struck for the long-awaited scheme to turn the Alnwick Playhouse into a community hub, resulting in a £3.3million makeover.
The major project, which has been described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, will require the much-loved arts venue to be closed for almost a year from next autumn.
However, this is all in the name of providing the town with a redesigned facility which will serve all of its needs for years to come and the deal has been welcomed by all of the main parties.
The Playhouse building is co-owned by Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) and Alnwick District Playhouse Trust (ADPT).
Over the years, despite best efforts, the building has deteriorated into a state where it requires a large capital investment to bring it back to good working order, something hard to achieve for two small charities.
That’s why the Playhouse trustees have concluded that the offer from the county council – to buy the building and then grant a new 50-year lease to ADPT to enable it to continue to operate the theatre, studio, bar and an expanded café facility – was by far the best solution to ensure it’s fit for purpose now and for future generations.
This week, it was confirmed that Northumberland County Council has exchanged contracts with both NTC and ADPT, which includes the deal that enables the Playhouse Trust to continue to operate its facilities.
Meanwhile, the council will use the remaining part of the ground floor to provide a library, tourist information and customer service facilities.
Work on this £2.5million refurbishment project will start next summer and is due for completion in May 2019.
Ward member for Alnwick, Coun Gordon Castle, said: “This has been a long running county-council project with all-party support to ensure that Alnwick Playhouse survives and develops as a community hub and cultural centre. The Playhouse will retain its primary role as a theatre and cinema while the library and tourist information centre will occupy other parts of building.
“There will be a period of disruption while building works are undertaken, but I thank all the staff and board members for their patience and understanding while we have been dealing with many issues that needed resolving before we could go public. I’m sure it will be worth the extended effort that has gone into securing this.”
As part of the agreement, the Playhouse will also be raising nearly £800,000 to finance a new food and drink area, new auditorium seating, a new get-in lift, studio adaptations and refurbishment throughout.
This would not have been possible without the significant investment from the county council which will ensure the building is water-tight, with new electrics and new heating installed.
The Playhouse is planning for a closure period of almost a year from autumn 2018, with a fund-raising campaign running throughout 2018/2019.
Jo Potts, Playhouse manager, said: “The Playhouse arts programme delivers a wonderful professional programme and provides a home to all our community groups.
“The building, which is open seven days a week and for 51 weeks of the year, has been in a desperate state of repair for some time and this investment from Northumberland County Council is absolutely fantastic news.
“The Playhouse will continue to be managed successfully by Alnwick District Playhouse Trust, allowing us to continue to build on our audiences and success of the past five years, but in a building which is fit for purpose.
“The Playhouse building is now secured for future generations, with a cultural programme embedded in the community. The Playhouse has always been at the heart of this community and we look forward to offering more and welcoming more people into the building when we reopen.”
Bryan Ellis, NTC chairman, said: “NTC is delighted that we have completed the deal with Northumberland County Council.
“We believe this is a win, win, win situation for all parties involved and will certainly help NTC to tour the UK with original productions employing local actors and stage staff.
“It is very appropriate that this deal has happened just prior to our 40th anniversary of national touring and taking the name of Northumberland around the UK.”
Chris Sayers, ADPT chairman, said: “I’m delighted that we have agreed this partnership with the county council. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore fully and modernise the Playhouse and, at the same time, provide the town with a redesigned arts facility that will serve all of its needs, making the Playhouse an even more valuable asset for Alnwick and the surrounding area.”
Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “The Playhouse is one of the most well-loved buildings in Alnwick and we are committed to its future.
“This deal is great news for the town and will further improve what the Playhouse offers, while also providing a central location for council services. We appreciate the support from both Trusts in reaching this stage, which will secure the future of the Playhouse for years to come.”