The future of theatre in Oldham became at once more confused and more optimistic today with the announcement of the appointment of a new Coliseum board of directors to "oversee the building’s closure and aim to preserve its legacy", while opening discussions with Oldham Council to "safeguard the future of culture in Oldham".
Arts Council England (ACE) set the ball rolling on the Coliseum's closure saga by announcing in November that the Coliseum would no longer have National Portfolio status - meaning it would no longer receive guaranteed three-year grants. This set the theatre's finances tumbling and the recent announcement that the Coliseum would close from the end of the month.
Following discussions with and feedback from ACE and Oldham Council, the previous trustees have stepped away from the organisation with immediate effect, to be replaced by a new six-member board who will oversee the closure and decide on the future of the organisation.
Following introductions from Coliseum Artistic Director and CEO Chris Lawson, the new Board – none of whom appear to have any local connections - have already opened discussions with ACE and Oldham Council, including any role a reshaped Oldham Coliseum organisation may play in it.
The new board is made up of people with wide experience of corporate finance, marketing, communications, performing arts and charities. They are: chairman Duncan Craig OBE, the founder & chief executive of the charity Survivors Manchester, a former trustee of SICK! Festival and the former chair of Manchester's Craft and Design Centre. He was also once a theatre press officer; Simon Chaplin, operations director of Stoller Hall, Chetham’s School of Music and Chetham’s Library in Manchester; Jon Gilchrist, joint president of UK Theatre, artistic director & CEO of Birmingham Hippodrome and until recently executive director of HOME in Manchester.
New board members Simon Chaplin, Jon Gilchrist, Janina Mundy and Hannah Taylor
They are joined by Janina Mundy, a freelance arts marketing consultant, previously marketing director of Manchester International Festival and Factory International and director of sales and marketing at Birmingham Royal Ballet; Hannah Taylor, a professional charity fundraiser at The Christie in Manchester, and Helen Williamson, a chartered accountant working in the charity and education sectors
Duncan Craig said today: “My fellow board members and I hold the responsibility to ensure the legacy of the Coliseum doesn't end when the doors shut.
"We will do everything we can to ensure Oldham Coliseum Theatre Ltd remains part of the discussions with Oldham Council about culture in Oldham, and I look forward to engaging in productive discussions with Oldham Council and with Arts Council England in the coming weeks." He added his thanks to the previous board and acknowledged the "incredibly difficult process" staff are going through.
Leader of Oldham Council Councillor Amanda Chadderton said: “It has been a difficult few weeks for Oldham Coliseum. We share the sadness and disappointment of both Coliseum staff and local people at the news of the closure. The appointment of a new board is a positive step forward and provides an opportunity for the Coliseum to forge a new future for itself.
"We are still hopeful the Coliseum can continue to produce theatre in Oldham and have a major role in our new town centre theatre and conversations between the council and the new board will focus on how we can achieve that.
"I have already met Duncan and was heartened by his commitment and drive to take the Coliseum forward in a way that benefits the town and protects our cultural heritage."