Leith Theatre to get new lease of life

April 25, 2012 | By More

Leith Theatre Trust reveal plans to take over building

By Thom Dibdin

Leith Theatre is set to get a new lease of life, if plans by the Leith Theatre Trust to take over the building get approval from Edinburgh Council on Thursday 24 April 2012.

The Council’s Culture and Leisure Committee will consider outline plans for a five year lease on the theatre and the next-door Thomas Morton Hall. This would give the Trust time to develop plans and find funding for a long term development of the building as a  “community and cultural asset” under a further 30 year lease.

Leith Theatre External. Photo: Thom Dibdin

Eventual uses could include a hub for the children’s theatre festival Imaginate, performance spaces for aerial and circus arts and a mid-to-large scale fringe venue.

The first phase of the plans would involve Leith School of Art taking on part of the theatre. The LSA would provide the funds to make it fit for their purpose and would be guaranteed long-term use of this part of the building in the subsequent lease period.

Philip Neaves, LTT Chairman, said: “The Trust is delighted to see its proposals being put before the Culture and Leisure Committee. This represents significant progress for us and will allow us to raise substantial grant funding to start to restore the building and maximise the potential for its use as an arts, community and education venue.”

There have been no negotiations over terms and conditions of a lease, as yet. However the council and Services for Communities, which currently manages and maintains the theatre and hall, have agreed in principle that a lease by LTT would not increase council expenditure on the complex.

flexible use

The proposal on the table at the meeting is just to agree the lease in principle. It has the support of council officials who are recommending that the committee accept it. If they do, then the Trust could take on a lease in early 2013.

Leith Theatre Entry Hall Photo: Thom Dibdin.

The Trust has provided a strategy document to support their proposal, including management structure, operational plan and outline of activity a the theatre complex.

Various plans for the theatre have been discussed since it was closed to the public in 1988. None has had any satisfactory conclusion. LTT has carried out a formal Options Appraisal, determining that demand for the theatre building does not correspond with the theatre’s historic use. As a result the Trust has considered a range of mixed activities for the building including flexible use of the theatre space.

According to LTT: “The proposals are for a mixed-use community-based social enterprise with an emphasis on visual and performance arts in particular. The intended capital redevelopment plan would have to be phased.”

Councillor Deidre Brock, Culture and Leisure Convener, said: “Breathing new life into Leith Theatre has long been a shared ambition for both the community and the Council. These proposals developed by the LTT are the biggest step forward for the Theatre in many years and would restore the complex to community and arts use.”

out-of-date and un-utilised

Leith Theatre was built as a compensatory gift from the people of Edinburgh to the people of Leith following the incorporation of the Burgh of Leith into Edinburgh. Work started in 1929 and it opened in 1932. The theatre suffered bomb damage in 1941 and was closed until 1961. It closed again in 1988.

Leith Theatre, Seen from Leith’s most famous gable end, at the bottom of Ferry Road. Photo: Thom Dibdin.

According to the Edinburgh Theatre Strategy of 2004: “the out-of-date and un-utilised Leith Theatre, which has been closed to the public since the late 198O’s, is no longer required and the Strategy recommends that consideration be given to its disposal.”

Included in the LTT strategy document is a list of organisations which have been “approached about the potential purpose of the venue, and have all expressed a concrete interest in being involved in the future programme and planning of the venue”.

Besides Leith School of Art these include Articulation, the national body for aerial and circus arts, which could use the theatre stage for nine months of the year,  including public classes and courses, professional development residencies and performances.

Dance Base, the National Centre for Dance which currently uses Morton Hall but which is due to relinquish its tenancy arrangement in September, talks of professional development/production residencies and studio sharing events in the theatre, using the theatre and hall as rehearsal spaces and staging mid to large scale Fringe performances.

hub

According to Leith Festival, the complex could act as a hub for the festival to include multiple performance and exhibition spaces and a bar for live music as well as having the potential for year-round office space.

Imaginate, the Children’s International Theatre Festival, say that the complex could act as a hub for the festival to include multiple bespoke performance spaces, workshop space, delegates’ centre, café and bar for social and networking events. It could also act as year-round rehearsal/studio development space and for artists’ continued professional development programmes.

Edinburgh Sikh Community has expressed an interest in the theatre and hall for large-scale engagement parties and community weddings. The complex would act as a community hub for celebrations, meetings and events tailored to the Sikh community’s needs.

Links:

BBC Scotland video on plans for refurbishment: news.bbc.co.uk

Leith Theatre Trust: leiththeatretrust.org

The Trust’s vision set out in agenda item to Council: Click here to download pdf

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