The Mercury Theatre Colchester’s Mercury Rising campaign has taken another big step forward, following a decision by Arts Council England’s (ACE) National Council to formally progress the project to Stage 2 of its Large Capital Programme.
This is the latest green light for Mercury Rising, following the planning approval granted by Colchester Borough Council in September. All eyes are now on the Mercury’s Board to grant final approval for the project to proceed, in mid-January.
The Mercury Rising project will transform the theatre’s foyer, extending the ground floor to include a new ticket sales and retail area, all-day café bar, foyer entertainments and improved audience facilities. Above the foyer, a newly constructed and specially-equipped creative learning and talent studio will give people of all ages and backgrounds opportunities to get involved in theatre making, and will be used to train the next generation of theatre artists.
Next generation artists and the Mercury’s Made in Colchester productions will also benefit from a new production block constructed at the rear of the building, incorporating two large rehearsal rooms, expanded and updated costume making facilities, and open-plan office space for resident theatre companies and other creative micro-businesses.
For the first time, the Mercury can confirm it plans to add an additional 40 seats to the Main Theatre auditorium as part of the development, without reducing the size or comfort of the current seating.
Arts Council England’s decision confirms a total of £4m in funding from the Large Capital programme, and unlocks a further £1m from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (SELEP) Local Growth Fund, and £200,000 from major national funder the Garfield Weston Foundation. These contributions were conditional on progressing to Stage 2 of the Large Capital Programme.
Colchester Borough Council and Essex County Council are each investing £1m in the project, which is jointly managed by Mercury Theatre and Colchester Borough Council. This investment by the councils has been critical to attracting major funding from national sources.
SELEP’s Accountability Board recognised the Mercury Rising campaign’s ambition to create a world-class theatre for artists and audiences, to improve the user experience and attract more visitors to its performances.
The project is on track to start on schedule. Subject to a successful tender exercise in early 2018, demolition will begin at the rear of the theatre – without affecting audiences – in the spring, followed by the construction of the production block.
The Mercury will close for a year from February 2019 when work takes place on the foyer, and will deliver an exciting programme offsite in a temporary theatre structure. The Mercury has entered early exploratory discussions with St. Thomas More School, Colchester Borough Council, and Firstsite to lease part of Berryfield Lawn, an area of land between the Firstsite gallery and the Culture Quarter development on Queen Street, for this purpose. More details of this will be announced in the spring.
Mercury Theatre Artistic Director, Daniel Buckroyd said: “This project is about securing a theatre, accessible to all, for this and future generations. We’ll be able to throw open our doors like never before. I’m particularly excited about the opportunities for future theatre makers – we have been investing heavily in this area as we know that theatre helps to bring communities together, and can have an extremely positive economic impact too.”
Hedley Swain, Area Director, South East, Arts Council England, said: “We’re delighted to award Mercury Theatre Stage 2 funding for its exciting capital development. The project has galvanised support from a wide range of local stakeholders and we are particularly pleased to see support from the South East England Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), which is testament to the important role that arts and cultural organisations have in local economic growth. Mercury Rising will not only extend Mercury Theatre’s offer to its audiences through improved facilities, but also create a wonderful platform for talented theatre makers to develop their craft.”
Cllr Tim Young, Deputy Leader of Colchester Borough Council and Portfolio Holder for Business and Culture said: “This is fantastic news not just for the Mercury Theatre but for Colchester as a whole. The ambitious Mercury Rising project is not just bucking the national trend for supporting these kind of venues but will help cement this borough’s reputation as being a vibrant centre for the arts.
This decision by Arts Council England will really help push this scheme forward. I’m excited for the future of the theatre and the benefits and opportunities it will bring to the borough.”
Christian Brodie, Chairman of South East Local Enterprise Partnership said: “The case for investing in the Mercury Rising project is compelling. Creating places where people want to live and work is more than simply investing in infrastructure and new housing, it is also about investing in our communities, and that includes our leisure economy.”
Cllr Susan Barker, Cabinet Member for Culture, Communities and Customer at Essex County Council said: “This is great news for the Mercury Rising project which will deliver benefits to the creative industries across the whole of Essex.”
For more information on Mercury Rising and how you can get involved, please visit www.mercurytheatre.co.uk.