Victory for campaigners as historic Oldham theatre to re-open

CAMPAIGNERS have been rejoicing at the news that Oldham Coliseum Theatre has been saved from permanent closure.

The historic venue – built in 1885 – closed its doors in March 2023 following the loss of Arts Council England funding and amid financial concerns, resulting in 70 staff being made redundant.

Later that year, Oldham Council’s leader said the theatre building could not have been saved and that the local authority had reached an agreement with the theatre “more than 10 years ago” that the building was “not fit for purpose”.

Crowds gathered at the Oldham Coliseum site

Plans were also announced for a new venue in the town centre’s ‘Cultural Quarter’ scheduled to open in 2026, but they have now been scrapped in favour of refurbishing the existing building on Fairbottom Street.

It will undergo a £10 million refurbishment in order for it to be able to reopen its doors in time for the pantomime season in 2025.

The news was announced on Monday evening (July 8), when a special celebratory party took place outside the Oldham Coliseum featuring a brass band, performances and dancing.

Around 100 people, including local residents, performers, politicians and partners, packed out Fairbottom Street to hear the good news first-hand.

Julie Hesomondhalgh and Cllr Arooj Shah

It follows a high-profile campaign to save the beleaguered venue, spearheaded by local actress Julie Hesmondhalgh and her husband, BAFTA award-winning writer Ian Kershaw, who is from Oldham.

“The public outcry that followed last year’s closure of Oldham’s beloved Coli, from audiences and artists alike, made national news,” Julie commented.

“Since then, a dedicated group of campaigners have been working tirelessly to fight for the jewel in Oldham’s crown to be reopened and restored to her former glory.

“It is because of a board dedicated to the continuance of the Coliseum’s cultural offer, the passion and persistence of a dogged band of campaigners, and a council willing to listen to its citizens, that we’ve arrived at this point.”

Ian added: “The legendary, internationally famous Oldham Coliseum is the town’s bearing heart of art and culture. Audience members from Oldham, and across the country, have joined us to urge the people in power to think again.

“This event is a celebration of a passionate campaign and marks an incredible moment in the fight to save our theatre.”

The celebration was attended by Oldham Council leader Councillor Arooj Shah, who said that work on the currently empty theatre space – which has been boarded up for over a year – will begin “immediately”.

A selection of well-known faces from the world of stage, film and television – including Surrane Jones, Maxine Peake, Christopher Eccleston and Siobhan Finneran – who have acted at the Coliseum in the past lent their support by appearing in a short film earlier this year.

The film, Our Sleeping Beauty, featured a poetic tribute from Julie Hesmondhalgh and gained more than 60,000 views in the 24 hours after it went live.

An Arts Council England spokesperson said: “At Arts Council England, our priority is to work with the people of Oldham to make sure that they have access to the art and theatre that they want – which is why we’re 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 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 the strong history of theatre in the town, and the work the campaign group has been doing to preserve it.”

The plans to revive the Coliseum Theatre will be formally approved by Oldham Council’s Cabinet next Monday (July 15).


One Reply to “Victory for campaigners as historic Oldham theatre to re-open”

  1. This typically is absolutely disgusting, (me and my mates-ism, at it’s worst,) and like most of rest of the quarter of a million people who also live in Oldham and who absolutely couldn’t care less about the Coliseum, I was delighted when they finally lost their ACE funding and had hoped that this entire farce was done with once and for all.

    At a time when OMBC are claiming to so broke that they’ve had to end The emergency Hardship fund intended to help and support those most in need and most vulnerable OMBC can, (magically,) find £10 million to fund the country’s most expensive pantomime, (because no one went to see any of the other stuff that they’ve produced,) this is crass, insensitive and a completely inappropriate abuse of public money.

    It’s little wonder then that OMBC are so often held in such widespread contempt across the town.

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