Oldham Coliseum to close after losing £1.8m arts subsidy

Theatre says it cannot survive without funding for next three years and will shut for good at the end of March

One of Britain’s oldest theatres, the Oldham Coliseum, has said it will be forced to close after losing its Arts Council England (ACE) funding.

The 138-year-old theatre, which helped launch the careers of some of Britain’s best-loved actors, said it could not survive without a £1.8m subsidy over the next three years.

The Oldham Coliseum is the biggest theatre outside London to lose its ACE funding from April.

The decision, which stems from a review aimed at rebalancing investment outside the capital, came despite Oldham being earmarked as a priority for “levelling up for culture” money by the government.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Coliseum said the withdrawal of ACE funding meant that “the current financial situation is not sustainable for the running of a full-time theatre”.

It added: “It is with great regret therefore that we announce that we have entered into a consultation period with all staff and it is proposed that Oldham Coliseum Theatre will close its doors on Friday 31 March 2023.”

The theatre said all planned shows and events would go ahead until Sunday 26 March and ticket holders for all subsequent performances would be refunded.

Last month it announced a cancellation of its spring-summer programme featuring a stage adaptation of Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake and the Christmas pantomime Sleeping Beauty.

ACE said the Greater Manchester town would still receive a £1.8m subsidy but that this would not go to the Coliseum, where more than 67,000 people have watched a show since it reopened after the Covid pandemic in June 2021.

The Coliseum, which dates back to 1885, has hosted international stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Minnie Driver and Ralph Fiennes and helped launch the careers of local actors such as Happy Valley’s Sarah Lancashire.

Many Coliseum performers went on to become some of the best-known faces in Coronation Street, including William Roache (Ken Barlow), Anne Kirkbride (Deidre Barlow), Barbara Knox (Rita Sullivan) and Jean Alexander (Hilda Ogden).

Oldham-based theatre company Dare to Know Theatre described the news as a “killer blow” for the town. It said: “[Oldham], once a town with over 60 theatres and a rich theatre culture, now sits without a professional venue for theatre.”

The comedian Jason Manford added: “Someone at Oldham council should be absolutely ashamed that they have let this happen … I’m sure the multistorey carpark or Safestore storage unit will bring the same joy.”

In an interview with the Oldham Times last week, ACE’s north area director, Sarah Maxfield, said the Coliseum’s application for £1.8m over the next three years – which it had received in the last funding round – was deemed “very high risk” and not value for money.

She said: “The major factor was that what they were proposing just didn’t make a strong case for investment of public money and it was also assessed as being a risk in terms of our responsibility to make sure that public money is spent well.”

ACE, which is an arms-length body of the government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said it had agreed to provide £358,856 in “transition support” to the Coliseum to help “give the company time and space to make decisions about its future,” as well as its current funding, which ends in March.

ACE said it would provide £1.8m to Oldham but that this would not fund the Coliseum: “We’re working closely with Oldham council on how this significant investment should be used to support the future of performing arts in Oldham and we are fully behind plans for a performing space for the town.”

The charity that runs the Coliseum said ACE had raised governance and other concerns in November but that these had since been addressed. Its chief executive, Susan Wildman, and chair of its board of trustees, Jan O’Connor, left the organisation in December.


Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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