Ellesmere Port’s Action Transport Theatre (ATT) is on tenterhooks awaiting the outcome of a £3.37m bid to help secure its future.
The theatre is seeking the money from the new Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS).
It would go towards a near £5m major improvement proposed for Whitby Hall in Whitby Park, the theatre’s home for the last 30 years.
If successful the project would see the locally listed heritage building become a high-quality arts and cultural centre creating artistic opportunities for up to 70,000 children, young people and their families every year.
To gain support the theatre encouraged people to become part of the action with over 1,000 signatures collected in just five days backing a letter to Whitehall.
“We want to make sure that your voices are heard and let them know why Whitby Hall is such an important venue to people in our community,” said the theatre.
The bid, which has attracted support from prominent figures, was submitted by the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) as its preferred option.
Cheshire West and Chester Council would back the project, drawn up through a partnership between the LEP, the borough council and the ‘highly respected’ theatre, by providing an additional £1.45m.
Christine Gaskell, LEP chairman, said: “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.”
Thirty years on from the group’s creation artistic director Nina Hajiyianni raised the curtain on proposals which would dramatically upgrade the tired Victorian country house with its forbidding fortress like entrance into a light, welcoming venue with a totally new 150 seat studio.
Noted architects Bennetts Associates, who transformed the grade ll* listed Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon and are responsible for Chester’s new £37m Storyhouse theatre, cinema and library, had been brought in to develop a feasibility study funded by ATT, the borough council and the Ellesmere Port Development Board.
Their report outlined ‘exciting plans’ for the development of the former family home which became council offices in 1931 and has been used by the theatre since the 1990s. It is owned by the borough council.
Looking to the future the architects pointed out that at present the entrance to the hall is ‘very unwelcoming’ while the windows look boarded up.
The ceiling of the main studio is too low which limits the ambition of productions while the second studio in the hall needs renovation.
On offer would be a new main studio space with retractable seating, new multi-purpose rehearsal and studio space, an all-day café and a more welcoming and accessible building which would connect with the Green Flag park.
ATT itself points out it is the only professional, specialist young people’s theatre company in Cheshire, funded by Arts Council England and part of its National Portfolio for 2015-2018.
Nina adds: “Our vision is that this locally-listed Victorian mansion will be transformed into an inspiring, accessible and fit-for-purpose cultural hub and arts centre for children and young people, their families and the wider community.”