Our historic venue has been given the green light to undergo a multi-million pound redevelopment, to transform it into a cutting-edge hub for performing arts communities.
The board of trustees for much-loved Cheltenham Playhouse recently secured planning permission to modernise the Grade II listed building and performance spaces in 2020, which will be the 75th anniversary of its rebirth as an iconic theatre. While the intimate auditorium will remain untouched, a double-height atrium will be created to open up the heart of the venue and provide a place to soak up rich history and permanent heritage displays over coffee or lunch. In this, anticipated lift access will be installed to give everyone the opportunity to enjoy the first-floor facilities for the first time.
Additional upgrades will include more flexible, affordable spaces for hire, for everything from workshops, events and meetings to rehearsals and small-scale theatre productions. Plus, relocating the public entrance and box office will further improve accessibility and visitor experience.
From its early life as a 19th Century spa, Cheltenham Playhouse evolved into a theatre in 1945 and, in more recent years, has played host to performances spanning live music, comedy, dance, poetry, burlesque, improv and film; making these planned modernisations a must to secure its relevance for future generations.
Once complete, Cheltenham Playhouse will be a hive of history and creativity for patrons, performers and businesses alike, whether they are looking for a unique and flexible space for the future, or inspiration from the past.
Malcolm Ball, Chair of the Trustees, said: "We are thrilled to have secured planning permission to bring Cheltenham Playhouse into the 21st Century and ensure it can be enjoyed and accessed by everyone for many more years to come. While these plans have been in the pipeline for the past two years, now we have been given the go ahead and estimated our fundraising target of £4million, we have set to work on applying for grants and funding, both locally and nationally, to bring our vision to life.
"As the redevelopment is for the benefit of the community, we look forward to working with our own to develop unique ways to raise funds, as only communities know how. Whether it be through sponsored events or online donation schemes, all ideas are welcome!
"The new and improved Cheltenham Playhouse will be a welcome addition to the vibrant Bath Road area, and we will announce our next steps and capital development fundraising strategy in due course."
The board has been working with specialist heritage architects, Poole Phillips, as well as renowned archaeologists, to ensure the redevelopment plans are sensitive to the patchwork of historic developments going back more than 200 years.
Planning permission was granted by Cheltenham Borough Council and the board of trustees now have five years in which to complete the works. Cheltenham Borough Council who own the building have recently agreed to a new 25-year lease, which will help to secure a bright future for the theatre.
If you would like to work with the board of trustees to help fundraise for Project Playhouse, the redevelopment of Cheltenham Playhouse - volunteering your time, ideas or pledges - please email our trustees at [email protected]
YOU CAN MAKE AN ONLINE DONATION TO PROJECT PLAYHOUSE BY CLICKING HERE
PLANNING APPLICATION MADE FOR MAJOR REDEVELOPMENT OF THE PLAYHOUSE - 1/319
One of Cheltenham's best-loved and most historic buildings is on the brink of a redevelopment that will help it become a community performing arts centre for the 21st Century while uncovering much of its fascinating past.
The Playhouse first started operating as a theatre in 1945 and its former life as the Montpellier Baths goes back to the early 19th Century when it was central to Cheltenham's spa heyday.
Now its board of trustees believe it is time to open a new chapter in the building's long history: they are determined to secure the Playhouse as a viable and accessible performing arts venue for the enjoyment and participation of all sections of society whilst preserving and respecting its rich heritage.
Central to their plans is a redevelopment of the building to make it more flexible and fit for purpose as a vibrant hub for a wide variety of performing arts. On 1st March they will submit an application for planning permission with Cheltenham Borough Council.
While the intimate and well-loved auditorium will be unaffected, much of the rest of the building will be remodelled for the benefit of patrons, performers and users.
- Creating an atrium with lift access to first floor facilities;
- More flexible areas to provide additional rehearsal and performance spaces for music, comedy, small-scale theatre productions, etc;
- Returning the public entrance to its original site to provide level access;
- Relocating the box office to the venue's Edwardian lounge;
- Improved accessibility for disabled users;
- Create better changing rooms and improved spaces for hire;
- Create a permanent exhibition of the building's rich and extraordinary past.
Chair of Trustees Malcolm Ball said: "We want the Playhouse to become a hub for the Bath Road vicinity that will enrich and contribute to a vibrant Cheltenham town centre. It will be a hive of activity that will be a lively and happy place to visit and participate in."
"We have been working on plans for the Playhouse for nearly two years and we're excited that we're ready to apply for planning permission. 2020 will be the 75th anniversary of the building being converted into a theatre and this is the perfect time for the Playhouse to enter the next phase of its amazing history. Its rich heritage isn't that well known: few of our audience members know that when they are enjoying a performance in our main auditorium they are sitting above a 19th Century swimming pool!"
"We have worked with specialist heritage architects Poole Phillips and renowned archaeologists to ensure our redevelopment plans are sensitive to the patchwork of historic developments going back more than 200 years, and we want to make this past as open and interesting as possible for the benefit of visitors."
In recent years the Playhouse has become a venue for a wide variety of local and touring performers, not just theatre but live music, comedy, dance, poetry, burlesque, improv and film.
Malcolm added: "The profile of those performing and visiting the venue has evolved considerably over the years and changes need to be made to the venue to secure its future and ensure it is still relevant for generations to come."
"However, the building's layout doesn't make it easy for patrons to experience the wide range of performances now available, or for us to offer flexible spaces to performers and other hirers. Our proposals aim to expand the buildings' remit and greatly improve the visitor experience of everyone using the venue, including better access, updated décor and an improved food and drink offering."
"We have been liaising regularly with council officials about our plans for redevelopment and they have been supportive in principle of our approach. If planning approval is given and funding is in place, we believe the work will take ten months to complete."
The Playhouse, which is a Grade II listed building, is owned by Cheltenham Borough Council and leased to a registered charity led by a board of trustees and supported by over 100 volunteers. It began life circa 1806 as Henry Thompson's manufactory for The Real Cheltenham Salts and over the years was enlarged to incorporate slipper baths, a swimming pool, a steam mill and bakery and medicinal spa, whilst also being used for dances, an indoor cricket school, cycling lessons and gymnasium. After operating as an ARP centre during WWII it was converted to a theatre in April 1945.