The Mercury Theatre has confirmed its £9m redevelopment plan, Mercury Rising, will go ahead following an exceptional award of £1.2m from the European Regional Development Fund. Mercury Rising will see the theatre’s buildings and site completely renovated, improving and extending audience, production and workshop facilities. It will ensure the entire building is fully accessible as well as introducing an all-day café, a unique incubation space to support creative talent from across the region, and a brand new home for all of the Mercury’s creative learning and community activities.
With just £500k left to raise, the total committed so far has now reached £8.5m, the minimum threshold for work on site to begin. The funds to enable this exciting development have been secured from a range of national and regional funding bodies, meaning that in excess of £7.5m will be new money invested into the Borough. These funds have been brought in by the Mercury to support the town’s ambition to improve access to cultural opportunities for local residents.
Alongside overwhelming support for the redevelopment from the local community who have already raised over £300k in charitable donations to support the changes, funds have been secured from Arts Council England’s capital funding programme, Colchester Borough Council, Essex County Council, the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, and now the European Regional Development Fund. The Fund seeks to support innovation and economic growth through the creation of jobs and the regeneration of communities. A further £500k has been pledged from major trusts and foundations including Garfield Weston Foundation, The Foyle Foundation, Fidelity Foundation, Bernard Sunley Foundation and Sport England.
Now work will start on the next stage of the project with the demolition on the site beginning later this month. The project to build the new theatre is being managed by Colchester Borough Council, and the demolition will be carried out by local company Phelan Construction. The Mercury are committed to working with local businesses and have agreed that at least £7m of the total budget will be spent locally in order to help create and sustain local employment. The building work will not affect audiences until mid-2019, at which point the theatre will take an exciting season of work out to a temporary off-site performance space so that building work can commence on the main theatre. The project is due for completion and the new facilities will open to the public in mid-2020.
Executive Director Steve Mannix said: “The Mercury Theatre is at the centre of Colchester’s community and economy. Audiences are growing year on year as our work grows in scale and ambition, while the theatre supports more and more jobs in the local economy. This is a pivotal moment for the theatre and for the region – a moment of opportunity for us to push artistic boundaries, to better our facilities for the community, and to develop the regional economy by providing a creative hub of national standing for the East of England.
Bringing £3.6m into the local economy annually, as well as over 100 jobs locally, the Mercury is already at the centre of the region’s creative industries, but there is so much more we can do. The existing theatre was built 45 years ago, following the founding of the Repertory Company some 35 years before that – through this project, we will ensure the theatre is a place for our community to enjoy for many generations to come.”
Councillor Tim Young, Portfolio Holder for Business and Culture and Deputy Leader of Colchester Borough Council said: “We are delighted to be supporting a project that will rejuvenate an intrinsic part of the borough’s cultural offering. Colchester is bucking the trend in funding arts and culture initiatives which bring huge benefits and opportunities to residents.
From its humble beginnings in 1937, the Mercury has become a theatre for Colchester and its communities. This project will cement the borough’s place as a centre for arts, and I am proud that the Council is playing a key part in helping turn the aspiration into reality.”
Hedley Swain, Area Director, South East, Arts Council England, said: “Arts and cultural spaces are an essential part of their local community, not just for providing a source of entertainment and creativity, but also as social space where people can come together to enjoy a variety of experiences. The Mercury Theatre has always been a huge part of its local community. But Mercury Rising will elevate the venue to a new level, establishing it as a creative hub in the heart of East Anglia where artists can hone their practice and visitors can feel at home.”
Will Quince MP for Colchester said: “The Mercury Theatre has a fantastic reputation for delivering top quality theatre, and sits at the heart of the cultural economy in our region. The theatre’s exciting redevelopment plans will be of huge benefit to our audiences and will ensure that Colchester remains at the centre of arts and culture for years to come.”
Councillor Sue Lissimore, Cabinet Member for Culture and Communities at Essex County Council said: “This funding is great news for the Mercury Theatre and will give a great boost to the creative skills industry, hopefully inspiring future generations.”
Adam Bryan, Managing Director of South East Local Enterprise Partnership said: “We were delighted to be able to support the Mercury Theatre with £1m of funding. The news that ERDF support has also been secured to allow the redevelopment to go ahead is very good indeed. SELEP’s role in supporting regeneration and economic development is a varied one. A thriving local arts scene is a vital component of any healthy and growing community and we wish the team behind the Mercury Rising project every success now that its future is assured.”
For more information visit www.mercurytheatre.co.uk.