A campaign group hoping to save the derelict Hulme Hippodrome theatre has received a boost from Manchester City Council, which has named the building an “asset of community value”.
The former cinema and theatre has been subject to rumours of redevelopment. Early this year it was advertised for auction, with a guide price of over £900,000 and a suggestion that the Grade-II listed building could be given over to residential development. The Theatres Trust and city council intervened to demand the description be removed, but sale and redevelopment could still be possible, leading to the council’s community asset declaration.
The status gives campaign Save the Hulme Hippodrome the legal right to a six-month hiatus on the building’s sale, to give campaigners time to raise money to make their own bid. Asset of Community Value status is applied to buildings with a clear community usefulness and remains in force for five years.
The disused Edwardian theatre is in Preston Street, off Princess Road – a main southern artery into the city centre – and fairly close to the well known Zion Arts and Contact theatres. It has a typical large auditorium of the period of around 1,800 capacity – not ideal, since Manchester has three other working theatres and a concert venue of around the same size – with an adjacent hall big enough for 1,000 people.
The main auditorium last staged theatre productions in the 1960s, then served as a bingo hall from the 1970s until the mid-1980s. In the early 2000s it was acquired by an evangelical ministry, which used only the foyer until 2016 and caused the main building to deteriorate. Manchester City Council served a Dangerous Buildings notice in 2017.
A third, smaller building, the Playhouse theatre in adjacent Warwick Street, is attached by an arcade to these, and is now the home of NIAMOS – better known to many in the region under its former name, the Nia Centre (the new name is an acronym for Not In A Month Of Sundays). The "radical arts" organisation staged the first production at the Playhouse in 25 years in 2019 and has held its own fund-raising campaigns to restore and develop the smaller building.
The Hippodrome has been on the “risk register” of the Theatres Trust since the register was first compiled 16 years ago, and Save the Hulme Hippodrome is worried the dereliction is nearing the point of no return. The trust, which has been advising the campaign group, says the Hippodrome is a “splendid music hall with a spectacular auditorium featuring a riot of gilded Rococo plasterwork”, and is “an iconic building of social, historical and architectural significance, currently in a very poor state of repair. The Hippodrome is in an ever-worsening state of repair and in urgent need of intervention to halt decay before irreparable damage is caused and the building lost.”
A further problem concerns the Hippodrome’s ownership: though currently listed as owned since 2003 by the Gilbert Deya Ministries, an evangelism organisation, the building has twice been involved in possibly invalid sales. Pastor Gilbert Deya was extradited by the Kenyan authorities in 2017 amid investigations by our own Charity Commission.
The campaign group is hoping to acquire the building, or if the Deya Ministries is shown to be the owner, to persuade the Charity Commission to turn the building over to community ownership. At that point, Save the Hulme Hippodrome is hopeful it will be in time to survey the theatre and make plans for renovation.
The ultimate plan is to organise live performances, a production academy offering set and costume design, sound and lighting and other production skills, and hopefully the creation of museum of music and arts, a cafe and other community assets. A Crowdfunder campaign earlier this year broke through its £10,000 target to achieve over £17,000 in a month.