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Oldham Coliseum to reopen

Oldham Coliseum - reprieve
Oldham Coliseum - reprieve

Oldham Coliseum has been saved from permanent closure and will reopen its doors in time for the pantomime season in 2025.

The news follows a high-profile campaign to reopen the historic venue, led by Julie Hesmondhalgh and backed by other prominent actors, including Maxine Peake and Emma Thompson.

In a special announcement outside the Fairbottom Street theatre today, the leader of Oldham Council, Arooj Shah, and Coronation Street star Hesmondhalgh, said the auditorium will be restored to its former glory in time for pantomime season next year, 2025.

The pair revealed the rescue mission has been many months in the making and has seen the Council, board and campaigners create an action plan that has the support of the Arts Council – which effectively closed the theatre in March 2023 when it took the Coliseum off its list of "national portfolio" clients, which guarantees funding for three-year periods.

The reopening of the 524-seater venue means proposals to replace the Coliseum with a new, smaller and far less capable venue have been scrapped. Built in 1885, the Coliseum will again be the town's main theatre. Money that was ring-fenced for the new venue will be used to restore the Coliseum.

The reopening comes after a report commissioned last year found the building was far from being in a “poor state of repair”, as the council had claimed, and could instead reopen its doors.

The significant public campaign calling for the theatre to reopen was launched, led by Hesmondhalgh and her husband, writer Ian Kershaw, and backed by actors including Peake, Thompson, Imelda Staunton and Vanessa Redgrave.

Hesmondhalgh said: "Sometimes you have to have something taken away from you to really appreciate it. We hope artists and audiences alike will commit to making this work. We can’t keep looking at the past and whose fault it was – everyone was doing their best with what they had.

"We now have a council and a bunch of artists who are fully committed, as well as a new board that will work hard to make it work and sort out the problems in governance from before."

The Coliseum’s new chair of the board is Martina Murphy, while Julia Turpin – formally creative engagement director at Manchester International Festival – has been named the Coliseum's new chief executive. Hesmondhalgh said the plan would be for the theatre to be run by "collective ownership".

The cost of reopening is put at £12 million, while the replacement venue was expected to cost more than £24 million, so the Coliseum rebuild also makes financial sense to the council.

Arts Council England allocated £1.845 million - the money the theatre had asked for under its national portfolio status - to support replacement cultural and creative activity in Oldham for three years following the theatre's closure, while the town waited for the new theatre to be finished.

Responding to the news of the Coliseum’s reopening, an ACE spokesperson said: "Our priority is to meet the needs of the people of Oldham, which is why we are investing £1.845 million over three years to support a creative and cultural programme in the borough, delivered by partners including Oldham Coliseum Theatre Limited and Oldham Theatre Workshop.

“While the former Oldham Coliseum building belongs to Oldham Council and isn’t funded by the Arts Council, we know what a well-loved landmark it is and recognise its link to a strong history of theatre in the town, and the work the campaign group has been doing to preserve it.

"We welcome the ongoing work to develop a sustainable future for theatre and performance in the borough and will continue to work with Oldham Council and partners to make sure there is a wide range of arts and theatre for audiences in Oldham to enjoy."

Oldham Council leader Shah said: “Oldham Council has listened to local people; we will bring the Coliseum back to life in time for the Christmas panto in 2025.

“We are formally committing £10 million for this major programme to see our famous venue open its doors to the public once more. We are working together for the future of theatre in this town. It’s a big part of our plans – putting culture at the centre of transforming our town centre and creating a better Oldham for everyone.”

The plans will be formally approved by Oldham Council’s cabinet on July 15.


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