BURY’S premier entertainment venue The Met is preparing to reopen its doors this Friday, following a £4.6 million refurbishment. Work commenced on the live music, theatre and arts venue - once known as Derby Hall - in March, following a £3.1 million capital investment from Arts Council England.
Arts, culture and heritage matter
Previously, it spent four years successfully applying for and raising money towards securing funds for the redevelopment project; which has seen improved facilities for audiences and performers and the restoration of the building’s period features.
Built in the late 1840s by the thirteenth Earl of Derby, the ‘people’s building’ began as Public Rooms, before being used for many years as a Town Hall and then a council building before The Met’s residence. Its impressive architecture is the work of Sydney Smirke, who also created the circular reading room at the British Museum.
The refurbished venue will house improved and expanded studio and theatre spaces, a new bar area, additional workshop spaces, new dressing rooms and an additional lift in the centre of the building for increased accessibility: all designed to enhance the audience experience, encourage more ambitious productions and attract high-profile artists and theatre companies.
Period features in Derby Hall
Liz West's Sevenfold at the new Met
At the centre of the building will be a newly commissioned art installation by acclaimed local artist Liz West; whose rainbow walk-through Through No.3 took up residence in Spinningfields earlier this year. The site-responsive piece, entitled Sevenfold, ‘will play with the natural light of the space and inject vibrant colours and a sense of illusion into the magnificent entrance and staircase of the Victorian neo-classical building’. It will be West’s first permanent installation.
First forming in 1975 as Bury Metropolitan Arts Association, the Met has since expanded into a multi-arts venue, recording studio, community workshop programme and three specialist festivals - The Big Whistle, Homgrown Folk and Ramsbottom - with turnover increasing from £250K to almost £1 million in a decade. It is hoped the venue’s re-launch will help propel the town’s identity as one of the North’s leading cultural destinations.
The current Oldham Coliseum (credit: Dronsfields)
The new Mecanoo-designed Coliseum theatre is going up next to the old library
Over in Oldham, meanwhile, another suburban arts gem has also received a considerable financial boost. Oldham Coliseum will relocate from Fairbottom Street to Union Street - part of the so-called ‘Cultural Quarter’ - after receiving a £7.1 million arts council grant. Designed by architects Mecanoo, its future home will consist of a 550-seat main auditorium and a studio theatre accommodating up to 220 people. Should planning permission for the designs be granted in March next year, work is expected to start in April 2018; with the venue opening in 2020.
Established in 1885, the Coliseum first opened as a circus on Henshaw Street 130 years ago, with audiences often numbering 3000. On being dismantled to make way for Tommyfield Market, the wooden theatre was moved plank by plank to Fairbottom Street in 1887 and became a popular music hall visited by the iconic likes of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. More recently, it was home to the Oldham Repertory Theatre, which produced Corrie institutions like William Roache and Pat Pheonix.
The Coliseum news follows the recent announcement that Oldham Town Hall is to receive a £37 million transformation; prompting Jonathan Schofield to speculate on the town’s development and where funding is still needed. While heavy investment in one area at the cost of others isn’t the answer, the development of this historical asset is undoubtedly a positive step forward.
The new theatre facility will be built on what is currently a car park on Southgate Street, with its own entrance on Union Street. It will be situated next to the grade II-listed Victorian library, currently undergoing its own transformation as a Heritage and Arts Centre - courtesy of the Heritage Lottery Fund and local philanthropist Sir Norman Stoller - which is to show Oldham’s journey from cotton spinning capital to the present day.
Oldham Town Hall is also undergoing development
Gallery Oldham, Library and Lifelong Learning Centre will be the other jewels in the Cultural Quarter’s Crown, all ‘sited at a prominent town centre gateway and just yards from the Oldham Central Metrolink stop.’ The plans are part of an approach approved in September 2015, which commits Oldham Council and its partners to a phased delivery over ten years of a four-stage Cultural Regeneration Programme.
Jean Stretton, Oldham Council Leader, said: "Arts, culture and heritage matter. They can inspire education across all ages and communities, boost the local economy, and attract tourism.
"Oldham Coliseum Theatre is a hugely-respected institution in the borough, and beyond. It's a major cultural asset that also delivers lots of important educational work. This relocation will widen its profile and ensure it has a bright future as part of our wider regeneration plans.
"You can see with developments like the Old Town Hall and others that we are working to transform our town centre into one that gives our residents greater pride in better facilities and preserved heritage - and will also attract a new type of visitor with a great arts, culture and leisure offer."