Harrogate Theatre's exciting £8 million bid to become 'cultural hub'

Enjoying a golden period - Harrogate Theatre.
Enjoying a golden period - Harrogate Theatre.

Harrogate Theatre has announced plans to build on its most successful period in nearly 100 years with a £5-8 million bid to become a cultural hub for the town.

The last 10 years have seen high attendance levels across the board at the town’s popular Victorian theatre which is leased from Harrogate Borough Council.

Harrogate Theatre's chief executive David Bown.

Harrogate Theatre's chief executive David Bown.

Not since the days of the theatre’s first manager, William Peacock from the 1900s to the 1930s, has the grade II listed building enjoyed box office and critical success in such a sustained fashion, bringing top comedy stars, major touring operas and a whole lot more.

Though this beautiful theatre has undergone a careful refurbishment and restoration in recent years, it feels the time is right to transform itself into a 21st century set-up capable of sustaining its success and contributing to Harrogate’s visitor and cultural economy.

The theatre aims to submit an application next year to the Arts Council for capital investment in a project with a budget of between £5 to 8 million.

During its recent renaissance, Harrogate Theatre has prospered on relatively little public financial support.

The aim is to continue in that vein.

Though its revenue grant has been cut in recent years as part of general Arts Council cost-cutting, the latter body has already given the theatre the green light to progress with its capital application.

The next step is to draw up RIBA architects plans for the theatre’s proposed changes.

Should the detailed proposal find favour with the Arts Council, the theatre would then be in line to receive 70% of the budget for the project.

If all is well, actual work could begin in 2018 with a possible finishing date of 2020 - just in time for Harrogate Theatre’s 120th anniversary celebrations.

Part of the plans will include major improvements in the areas of both access and diversity.

Originally known as The Grand Opera House when it first opened on January 11, 1900 with a charity gala in aid of British soldiers fighting the Boer War in South Africa , the theatre was designed by architect, Frank Tugwell, who also designed the Futurist Theatre in Scarborough and the Savoy Theatre in London.

Since Harrogate Theatre first became a non-profit making charitable trust in 1960, it has seen plenty of good days and has survived the odd troubled time.

Despite a funding crisis in the mid-eighties which resulted in it closing for a period of reorganisation, reopening in 1987, its current management team and board has acquired a strong reputation throughout the industry.

This is especially for its traditional family-friendly Christmas pantomime which starts in a few week’s time.

In a challenging climate for the arts, the ultimate goal of Harrogate Theatre’s radical new proposals is to build on its strengths in order to continue to stand on its own two feet in commercial terms.