Harrogate Theatre's £1m roof replacement well underway for hopeful return of shows in November
The £1million replacement of Harrogate Theatre's ageing roof is well underway in preparation for the hopeful return of live shows later this year.
Visitors to the town centre will not have gone without noticing the huge scaffolding structure erected around the 120-year-old venue which has stayed shut since the start of the pandemic and will remain so until the roof replacement is complete.
The aim is for the roof to be fully stripped back next month in what will mark a crucial stage of the project as the true extent of the works at hand are revealed beneath.
David Bown, chief executive of the theatre trust, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that while it remained an unknown what construction crews may find, the venue was planning for the worst but hoping for the best with its sights set on the return of shows in November.
"This is a huge and complex project in terms of the geography of the building which is such a difficult site to work on," he said. "There is very little room around the building - it is terraced with other properties, triangular in shape and on top of a hill which means there is little access.
"We also have the uncertainty of what we are going to find underneath once the roof is taken off. We just don't know what will be there - it could be rotten beams."
If the roof replacement is completed on schedule, the return of shows in November will mark 20 months since the theatre was last filled with spectators in March 2020 when the coronavirus first swept across the nation.
The theatre has stayed shut since and surviving the pandemic has only been possible thanks to around £650,000 in emergency government grants and a fundraising appeal which raised more than £100,000.
There was also a need for the theatre to make 60% of its staff redundant in the wake of £4million losses from cancelled shows, some of which are now being held virtually and at community venues as part of its Raise The Roof season.
Mr Bown said: "The roof replacement project was due to start last year but when the pandemic hit we just couldn't get the people power to make it happen. And even though we are in a period of uncertainty, it was still agreed that now was the best time to get it done.
"I can't quite envisage what it will be like having audiences back - it has been an empty building for so long. But what I am looking forward to though is the return of our pantomime, that is the jewel in the crown of our shows and with people back with us I'm sure it will be special and magical."
Harrogate Borough Council owns the Grade II-listed theatre and is funding and overseeing the roof replacement works.
The council's deputy leader and cabinet member for resources, enterprise and economic development, councillor Graham Swift, said once completed the project will provide a theatre fit for the future.
He said: “Like any heritage building of this age and complexity, there will always be a certain amount of conservation and investment required to ensure the building is fit for another 120 years.
“This significant investment will allow the fantastic performances to continue, promote cultural activity in the town, attract visitors and support the local economy at a time when it is needed the most.
“The project is progressing well and we look forward to providing regular updates over the coming months.”
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter