Howden Park’s future secure

Jan 17 2024 | By More

Key West Lothian theatre resource saved

Reconnect SCIO, the charity running the Reconnect Regal Theatre in Bathgate, has won a long-term lease to run the under-threat Howden Park Centre in Livingston, securing its future as a venue to 2035.

Plans by West Lothian Council to close the popular venue because it was “underused” were put forward in May 2023 (See: Howden Park faces closure) as part of a bid to address a £1.75m shortfall in its 2023 budget.

Howden Park Centre

However, the protest group Hands off Howden Park managed to secure a short term reprise – enough time for Reconnect SCIO to take over the temporary running of the venue, including a hugely successful pantomime, and put forward a bid to run the Howden Park long-term.

Speaking to Reconnect’s creative director Pete Sneddon at the 2023 pantomimes, he was confident that the charity would be able to ensure that Howden Park remained a thriving local venue if their bid to the WLC to take it on full time was successful.

Howden Park is an important part of both the amateur and the professional theatre worlds. It is home to several amateur companies, is used for the SCDA One Act Festival and is on the Scottish touring circuit for small and medium scale funded theatre, as well as being a regular stopping off point for big names on the comedy circuit.

At its meeting on Tuesday (16 Jan 2024), the Council Executive approved the plans to lease Howden Park Centre to Reconnect SCIO from 1 April 2024 to 17 February 2035.

WLC will continue to be a partner in providing programming and marketing support for the venue, particularly in relation to ongoing development of the venue’s community programme and related partnerships, alongside general promotion of venue activity on its social media channels.

good news

Council leader, Lawrence Fitzpatrick said: “This is really good news for users of Howden Park Centre and we are delighted to have reached this agreement to secure Howden Park Centre’s future.

“The centre is critical to the culture and arts scene in West Lothian. There’s been an enormous amount of work undertaken by Reconnect and the council to reach this point and a good outcome for the centre, customers and the people of West Lothian.”

Key elements of Reconnect SCIO’s approved bid include:

  •  The facility will be used as a theatre and arts venue and as the permanent base for Firefly Arts for the duration of the lease period
  •  An ambitious and enhanced programme of artistic activity would be provided, building on what is currently offered with in-house production of pantomime, musicals and plays, a touring programme, a visiting companies programme, development and introduction of a special outdoor events programme, and continued engagement work with local schools and community groups.
  • Implementation of a new two-venue operating model from 1 April 2024, spanning Howden Park Centre, Livingston, and the Regal Theatre, Bathgate, in order to achieve ongoing efficiencies via economies of scale, a more streamlined and integrated approach to programming, ticket sales, back office functions, and to broaden the cultural and community arts offering across the wider West Lothian area
  • The bistro and bar offering would continue to be developed to ensure they appropriately align with the programme of activities, events and wider usage of the venue, supporting the aim of the venue becoming a financially viable, sustainable and vibrant destination.
  • A request for ongoing engagement with relevant council services to support the development of Reconnect SCIO’s plans for access to, and utilisation of, the publicly accessible open spaces which surround the venue, and for car for car parking and wider access to the overall site.
  • Reconnect SCIO would pursue commercial sponsorship opportunities and develop corporate partnerships relating to the venue itself and the programmes delivered.

Reconnect SCIO was set up in 2017 “to help evolve our nation’s cultural heritage”. In 2018 it took over the running of the Regal Bathgate, a 1938 B listed, art-deco-style former cinema.

Council officers undertook an open market bidding process for the running of Howden Park. Reconnect SCIO’s bid was identified as representing best value, whilst “facilitating continued compliance with the council’s ongoing funding obligations to Creative Scotland”. Reconnect SCIO’s bid was also determined as “having the most robust, viable and self-sustaining business model of those presented to officers at the closing date”. In total three bids were received.


Howden Park Centre:

Hands off Howden Park Facebook page: @HandsOffHowdenPark

Reconnect Regal:


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