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Oldham Coliseum faces tough future



Still reeling from the news that Arts Council England is pulling its funding from next year, Oldham Coliseum bosses know they face an uphill struggle to maintain operations.

But defiant artistic director Chris Lawson promised: "Rest assured we’ll do everything we can to help the Coliseum thrive."

The theatre has been a "National Portfolio Organisation" client of ACE for decades, meaning it has been funded for three years at a time and could plan ahead - though the grant has always been significantly less than that received elsewhere in Greater Manchester.

In total, 114 organisations have been dropped from the NPO list and 276 added – many of the newcomers being touring companies without the major expense of maintaining a theatre.

The Coliseum - which over the years has greatly expanded its diversity and community work in line with ACE policies - asked the Arts Council for just over £1.8 million for the years 2023-26, anticipating a strong chance of automatic renewal. This was a reasonable expectation given ACE's avowal to boost its "levelling up" funding for northern companies, since Oldham is one of the areas pinpointed by the government for extra assistance.

Instead, money has gone to several new recipients across the country – including a massive subsidy to the new Factory International HQ of the Manchester International Festival (£9million a year, the largest amount since the development of Tate Modern), and also including Northern Broadsides in Halifax, and others. Meanwhile small and artistically successful - but relatively poor - companies such as Hope Mill in Manchester, have also had their application denied.

The Coliseum - an Oldham institution since 1885 and one of only 32 British theatres regularly making new shows - will be hard hit by the missing money. The theatre will probably be forced to ask for project grants that won't nearly match the £615,000 a year it felt it needed to serve its annual audience of around 70,000, plus thousands more in local schools and community groups.

The Arts Council will give former NPOs transitional help in the first year they are without a grant, but only around 25 per cent of their previous amount.

The Coliseum's business model has relied heavily on ACE money, a spokesman said, and

Coliseum artistic director Chris Lawson
Coliseum artistic director Chris Lawson

the theatre is having to look hard at how it will move forward. This is compounded by the relatively late announcement this year of the funded organisations. Normally this takes place in summer, giving newly-unfunded organisations more time to cope with their change in fortunes.

At present there can also only be speculation about what this decision might do to the theatre's and Oldham council's hope of building a new theatre - a plan that has already been dropped then reinstated.

"Our executive and senior management teams are working on this urgently, but having received this news only last Friday, we don't yet have answers," the spokesman added.

Artistic director Chris Lawson added: "We are determined to continue delivering our programme of shows, learning and opportunities as much as possible and looking at our options. Our sincere thanks go to everyone across the UK and further afield, and our amazing audiences, for their very vocal support."

Chief Executive Susan Wildman added: “For all those who have asked what they can do to help, the message is simple: continue to support us financially or in whatever way you can. Come and see the great work we make, and please give a donation when you book. Think about how your business can work with us.

Coliseum chief executive Susan Wildman
Coliseum chief executive Susan Wildman

“We understand the pressures ACE faces and thank them for all their support over many years. The theatre remains sincerely grateful for the support of Oldham Council, all its funders, sponsors, partners, and of course audiences and participants, particularly given the current financial climate.”

This weekend the Coliseum opens its biggest box-office, best-attended show of the year, its award-winning annual pantomime, and this year more than most its tradition of putting tickets for next year's panto - for 2023 - on sale from this year's first night, will be more important than ever.


More Info here. Panto tickets here