Oldham Coliseum appoints new board to preserve theatre’s legacy and region’s culture

Trustees will decide on the future of the organisation which lost all its Arts Council funding and hosts final performances this month

A new board of trustees has been appointed to preserve the legacy of Oldham Coliseum and “safeguard the delivery of culture” in the town after the theatre’s closure at the end of this month.

The 138-year-old Coliseum, which has been stripped of its funding from Arts Council England (ACE), will present its last scheduled performance this weekend and is considering marking the closure next week with a special event. Julie Hesmondhalgh, one of many actors to decry the 100% funding cut, has called for a sit-in protest at the venue and described ACE’s decision as an act of “cultural vandalism”.

Oldham is a priority place for the government’s levelling up fund and is also one of the north-west’s major employers of the theatrical workforce. The theatre’s new board has begun discussions with ACE and Oldham council on the future of culture in the town, including any role that a reshaped Coliseum organisation may play in it.

Duncan Craig, new chair of the board, said they would ensure that “the legacy of the important and much-loved work that the Coliseum has brought to the people of Oldham and the UK theatre scene does not end when the doors shut”. He also acknowledged the “incredibly difficult process that the staff are going through” and thanked them “for taking care of each other”. The average length of service for a member of staff at the Coliseum is nine years, which, said Craig, shows “dedication to creating great theatre for and in Oldham”.

Amanda Chadderton, leader of Oldham council, said the appointment of a new board was a positive step forward and that she was hopeful that the Coliseum organisation would still be able to produce shows in Oldham. Some of those may be staged in a new town-centre performance space that is planned.

A statement on the Coliseum’s website said that “the outpouring of love for the theatre over the past weeks has been overwhelming, demonstrating the Coliseum’s impact on the communities of Oldham and further afield”. The news of the cut, after decades of ACE support, caused a “massive shock felt throughout the building” said its artistic director, Chris Lawson.

ACE announced in November that the Coliseum, one of Britain’s oldest theatres, would no longer be part of its National Portfolio from 1 April and would lose its £1.8m subsidy. The building’s closure is being supported by ACE Transition Programme funding for organisations leaving the National Portfolio, which will honour contracts with affected artists and support staff redundancies.

The Coliseum’s new board will oversee the closure of the building and decide on the future of the organisation. Craig, its chair, is the founder and chief executive officer of the charity Survivors Manchester. The other members are Simon Chaplin, Jon Gilchrist, Janina Mundy, Hannah Taylor and Helen Williamson.


Chris Wiegand Stage editor

The GuardianTramp

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