The recently revealed near £5m project to secure the future of Whitby Hall in Ellesmere Port, home to Action Transport Theatre for the last 30 years, has attracted support from prominent figures.
The redevelopment is seeking £3.37m from the new Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund and has been submitted to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports by the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) as the preferred bid locally.
Cheshire West and Chester Council is to back the scheme by providing an additional £1.45m.
If the bid is successful the project will see the locally listed heritage building, standing in the Green Flag Whitby Park, become a high-quality arts and cultural centre creating cultural opportunities for up to 70,000 children, young people and their families every year.
It has been drawn up through a partnership between the LEP, the borough council and the ‘highly respected’ theatre.
Christine Gaskell, LEP chairman, said: “This is a really strong bid to create a fantastic cultural legacy for Ellesmere Port building on the inspirational work of Action Transport Theatre as national leaders in arts and culture for children and young people.
“Securing an investment of this scale for the town would be a catalyst for the wider transformation of the town centre helping to attract further investment and engaging thousands of local residents in new arts and cultural activities.”
Justin Madders (Lab), MP for Ellesmere and Neston, said: “This bid is a fantastic opportunity for Ellesmere Port to transform its cultural offering and inspire and engage children, young people and their families in the arts and culture.
“We have lagged behind in arts and culture funding in this town for too long so I’m delighted that partners have joined together to recognise the huge potential of Whitby Hall and Action Transport Theatre as a key cultural asset.”
Little Neston and Burton ward councillor Louise Gittins (Lab), cabinet member for communities and wellbeing, said: “This is a very exciting opportunity and we are working with the team responsible for the delivery of the multi award-winning Storyhouse in Chester.
“Our vision is for a world-class public-facing centre specialising in high quality arts and culture for children, young people and their families.”
Her Conservative shadow Cllr Stuart Parker (Con, Chester Villages) added: “Many local people are not aware of the fantastic work of Action Transport on their doorstep.
“A successful bid will create iconic, contemporary spaces which will engage, broaden and inspire audiences and participants whilst also adding greatly to the park.”
Nina Hajiyianni, the theatre’s artistic director, said: “I can’t describe what this would mean for us, Whitby Hall is no longer fit for purpose, it doesn’t help our activities.
“We are operating out of a building that remains boarded up with many physical and visual barriers. Now we have a chance to bring a new highly inclusive cultural offer to Ellesmere Port.”
Whitby Hall is said to be in an ‘extremely poor condition with areas suffering from damp and water ingress’.
The redevelopment would offer a new 150 seat theatre, with film and live broadcast facilities, a multi-purpose studio with a sprung floor and digital facilities.
A new licensed café bar/bistro is also proposed to connect all aspects of the building and provide meeting spaces for all users.
The £15m Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund aims to help build a lasting regional legacy from the Great Exhibition of the North taking place in the north east next year.
Towns and cities across the North were invited to bid for a share of the fund for projects that will increase opportunities for people to experience, benefit and contribute to culture and creativity with grants of up to £4m available to support major culture and tech capital projects.