Mercury Theatre Colchester is one of 16 organisations nationwide to reach the final stage of an Arts Council England major funding scheme.
Arts Council awards £478,000 to advance extensive rebuild plans, with an invitation to apply for a further £3.5m
Colchester Council is proposing to invest £1m to the project, subject to a formal decision, and to support with project management
The Mercury Theatre is announcing an £8.8m plan to redevelop its buildings and site, improving and extending audience and production facilities whilst also creating a learning and participation centre that will help to extend its educational and community work. All areas of the building will be fully accessible for the first time. If the project is successful, the new facilities would open in 2020.
The project has got off to a flying start today with an invitation from Arts Council England to apply for £3.5m from its large capital funding programme, and an immediate grant of £478,000 to support development of the plan. The Mercury has successfully passed the first stage of applications to the large capital fund, and was one of only 16 organisations in England to do so.
Under the plans, the Front of House area will be rebuilt and extended, introducing an all-day café bar and creative space. Rehearsal rooms, currently housed in town centre office accommodation, will be replaced with purpose-built and fully accessible facilities. New highly visible on-site spaces for learning and participation work and community use will also be introduced. The Mercury’s workshop and wardrobe facilities – already unique in East Anglia – will be improved.
Subject to public consultation and planning permission, new pedestrian routes will be introduced to connect local historical and cultural offers, floor-to-ceiling glazing will provide new views into the workings of the building, and new piazza style public areas will offer dining and performance spaces.
The Mercury is hopeful that, subject to a formal decision, Colchester Borough Council will manage the build and will provide £1m of match funding.
Artistic Director Daniel Buckroyd said: “Arts Council England have indicated support of up to £4m for this project. Though we still have some criteria to satisfy in the final stage, we have taken a huge step forward towards improving and extending a vibrant home for creative excellence in our area. The new building will be so much more welcoming, drawing people in with constant views of the activities taking place inside.”
He added “This project would never have been possible without the amazing support – over many years – of our audience members, and of Colchester Borough Council and Essex County Council. Arts Council England has recognised the strong support for the arts locally, and that has been critical to getting this project up and running.”
Executive Director Steve Mannix said: “The Mercury Theatre is at a tipping point. Audiences are growing, our artistic ambitions have never been higher and we are transforming our learning and participation work in the local community. This is a moment of possibility which, if seized, can unlock major creative benefits for Colchester, Essex and East Anglia as well as the wider theatre economy, cementing the Mercury as a centre of national standing here in the East of England. We’re thrilled that Arts Council England has recognised the case for major investment at this critical time.”
He added, “The Mercury supports over 100 jobs locally, bringing £3.6m in to the local economy – and we’re bursting at the seams. Our new Studio Theatre has a packed and diverse programme in the Spring, showing what is possible with improved facilities. This project will help us to realise our full potential, and will ensure that future generations of Colchesterians can be proud of their town’s theatre.”
The news follows an independent Economic Impact Study which revealed that for every £1 of public investment in the Mercury, the theatre generates an additional £3. The study found that the Mercury generates £3.1m in the local economy through its own operations, and spend by audiences in restaurants, bars, accommodation and shops.