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New lease of life for Haymarket Theatre

Published on 02 June 2016

LEICESTER’S former Haymarket Theatre could re-open as a space for live performance by spring 2017. 

City Mayor Peter Soulsby has announced his intention to support Haymarket Consortium Limited’s proposal by investing £2.2million in the building, which will bring it up to the standards required for a modern performance and training venue.

Although the scheme will require significant public funds – with potential funding coming from the city’s Economic Action Plan – the City Mayor is pleased that a new use for the landmark building has finally been found.

“The Haymarket Theatre has been a drain on resources since it closed in 2007, costing the council around £180,000 each year in service charges and other costs,” he said.

“When the council signed a 99-year lease for the theatre back in 1974, it couldn’t have anticipated that the facility would be made redundant 33 years later and become such a huge burden on public funds.

“Doing nothing with the building has already cost the council around £1.5million, so it’s time to bite the bullet and turn this liability into an asset for the city.”

In the last five years, the city council has run two marketing exercises in a bid to find someone who would buy the lease and bring the building back into use – but no viable proposals were received.

“Our aim was to find a buyer for the lease, so I am disappointed that that hasn’t been possible,” said the City Mayor.

“But I am pleased that we have been able to find an operator with a plan that appears to offer the theatre a sustainable future.

“The council’s investment of £2.2million will create a new cultural destination in the city centre that will offer opportunities for jobs, training and work experience, while freeing the council of the burden of the building’s service charges by 2020.” 

Subject to contract, legal agreements and the approval of the building’s owner, an initial sub-lease of five years will be granted to Haymarket Consortium Ltd, who will then be able to approach external funders to seek further support for their plans.

The Haymarket Consortium is a group of individuals brought together from a variety of backgrounds to tackle the challenge of bringing the building back into use. The consortium comprises Chris Knight (technical/training), Jed Spittle (financial/artistic), John Jenkins (premises/licensee), Ellyn Phillips (training/artistic) and Natalie Cheary (PR/marketing).

Jed Spittle, director of the consortium, said: “We’re very excited about bringing the old theatre back into use.

“There was no ‘off-the shelf’ solution to the unique challenge the Haymarket Theatre presents, so Chris Knight and myself decided to pull together a new team of experts, from differing fields and with a passion for the building, and form this new consortium.

“Our original proposal anticipated the phased refurbishment of the theatre, with areas such as the auditorium being brought back into use as funds became available. But in order for our business plan to be viable, we concluded that we would need to reinstate the auditorium from the outset.

"Our aim is to create a fully-equipped professional performance and rehearsal space – complete with bar and catering facilities – that will allow us to maximise our income streams from the start.

“From 2020, that income will cover the costs of the annual service charges – and finally put an end to the city council’s financial responsibilities for the building.”

As well as hosting live performance, the former theatre could be hired out as rehearsal space or a dance studio and could be used as a venue for awards dinners, party nights and conferences.

It could also be a training facility – ultimately being recognised as a national training theatre that would support students studying for production and performance qualifications.

Chris Knight, fellow director of the consortium, said: “Through our collective experience in industry, augmented by numerous conversations with industry colleagues, we’ve established that there is a demand for industry led training.

“This training needs to be current and adaptable – and the concept being developed is that of a teaching and training theatre, where students are taught through a mixture of theory and practical sessions, working alongside a professional team to gain experience during the operation of the venue.

“Ultimately the aim is to teach from GCSE and BTEC through to Degree level, and we welcome suggestions from the industry on what they’d like to see included in technical, production, performance and stage management courses.”

Before the former theatre can re-open to the public, works to restore essential services will need to be carried out.

The auditorium will be refurbished – with 800 new seats and new sound and lighting systems – and a café/licensed bar will be installed. The foyer and entrance areas will be modernised, while retaining the original look and feel of the old Haymarket Theatre.

Subject to contract, work could get under way this autumn with the venue open by spring 2017.

The council has a 99-year lease on the Haymarket Theatre, which still has 57 years to run.

A formal decision on the proposal will be made by the City Mayor later this summer.