From left, Nick Button (Band Hatton Button); Brian Harrabin (Harrabin Construction); Councillor John Mutton; Andrew Roberts (Robothams Architects); Laurence Moore (Prime Accountancy Group); Claudette Bryanston (Albany Theatre).
The curtain has lifted on renovation work at one of Coventry’s oldest theatres now its long-term future has been secured.
The Albany Theatre on Butts Road has signed a 25-year lease with the option of a further 25 years to occupy its existing building and, as part of the agreement, will take on 1,000 square metres of additional adjoining space.
The new space has been acquired to support its Arts for Life agenda, which aims to promote wellbeing through the arts in partnership with other organisations.
As preliminary refurbishment work starts on the new space and other areas of the theatre, a consultation is currently taking place until the autumn for the public and stakeholders to put forward ideas.
A performance studio, bar and café, box office and flexible space for socialising and working form the basis of the plans with other space available for multi-purpose use. Suggestions already include dance space as well as opportunities for digital arts.
The Albany Theatre, which is run by registered charity The Albany Theatre Trust, was able to sign the new lease after their Coventry-based solicitors, Band Hatton Button, negotiated a deal that will see Coventry City Council act as a guarantor for the charity for the first 25 years.
It comes as the number of events and visitors to the theatre are on the rise. 143 events were held at the venue last year, up from 55 in 2013/14, while audiences have doubled over the same period.
David Meredith, Chairman and Chief Executive of the Albany Theatre Trust, revealed the theatre had been running for four-and-a-half years without a lease, and was delighted with the new agreement.
He said: “Without taking on the new space we could not have secured a lease to save the theatre, and we could not have done it without the support of Coventry City Council.
“Around 4,000 young people already visit our theatre every year and we are also developing projects with older people and the rich culturally diverse population of our city. We want to establish The Albany as one of the most exciting accessible arts venues in the city whilst continually reaching out into our community.
“We are consulting as widely as we can to engage the local community and find out what Coventry people want and need in this new arts space, and then we will need to raise the funds to do the development work.
“Everyone benefits from being involved in the arts whether as a spectator, performer or volunteer, and the new space will make it possible for us to offer a wider range of opportunities for everyone and we can’t wait to see what emerges from our consultation.
“We have a wonderful group of volunteers running the theatre, supported by a small professional team, and depend on the support of organisations such as Band Hatton Button and Prime Accountants to make it all possible.”
To make the deal happen the Albany Theatre Trust’s Finance Director Laurence Moore, of Prime Accountants Group, approached Nick Button, Head of Commercial Property at Band Hatton Button solicitors, to help negotiate the lease.
Laurence added: “As a charity, the Albany Theatre has to be careful how it spends its money and not only did Nick and his team achieve a great deal for the theatre, they helped by saving the theatre thousands of pounds in costs, so support like this is invaluable.”
Preliminary works on new and existing parts of the theatre are being carried out by Harrabin Construction, while the new space is being designed by Robothams Architects. Work is expected to be completed by the end of November in line with the consultation, just in time for The Albany’s Christmas production of The Wind In The Willows which opens on December 9.
Nick Button, Head of Commercial Property at Band Hatton Button, added: “The Albany is one of Coventry’s cultural gems and we are thrilled to have struck a deal that gives it a chance to grow in the future which is fitting as the city bids to become UK City of Culture in 2021.”
Cllr John Mutton, Cabinet Member for Strategic Finance and Resources, said: “The Albany Theatre is a wonderful success story, and a much loved part of the city’s cultural life. By acting as guarantor, we can help the theatre to a more secure future and allow it to continue its valuable work in the local community.”
Photo 1 – From left, Nick Button (Band Hatton Button); Brian Harrabin (Harrabin Construction); Councillor John Mutton; Andrew Roberts (Robothams Architects); Laurence Moore (Prime Accountancy Group); Claudette Bryanston (Albany Theatre).
Photo 2 – From left, Nick Button (Band Hatton Button); Councillor John Mutton; Brian Harrabin (Harrabin Construction); Laurence Moore (Prime Accountancy Group); Andrew Roberts (Robothams Architects); Claudette Bryanston (Albany Theatre).
Notes for Editors
About the Albany Theatre
The College or Butts Theatre as it became known was opened in 1935 as an assembly hall for Coventry Technical College. Over the years, it was developed into a theatre and became home for generations of local amateur theatre, dance and musical theatre groups. Almost anyone who has performed in the city will have experienced the theatre so there is a great deal of goodwill towards it from people of all generations.
The Albany Theatre Trust was established in January 2012 and gained charitable status in March 2013.
Since incorporation the Trust has operated the theatre with only minimal funding support; it relies on the money generated by shows and events. It adopts a “Robin Hood” approach: making as much money as it can from popular events to keep use of the theatre affordable for community groups and, with the new spaces coming on stream, increasingly to fund experimental, challenging and exciting work that reaches out and involves all the City’s diverse communities.
Whilst The Albany has developed from a standing start into a professional venue since opening in February 2013, it relies on volunteers for and a small professional staff for its operations its operations (all the Directors are themselves volunteers). The Trust now employs 12 paid staff; four of them young people who were recruited as apprentices and who have been given permanent contracts.
The number of event days (days with a show or event) has increased steadily over the years from 55 in 2013-14 (the first year of operations) to 143 last year (2016-17). The Trust expects that number to increase to 175 in the main house this year (to March 31st 2018). Over the same period the audience has doubled, and every year around 4,000 children and young people perform on the main stage.
Without prejudging the outcomes of the public consultation, which will continue into the autumn, it seems likely that the new facilities will include studio theatre and dance facilities, flexible spaces for community use, and a bar and café. The consultation has so far also revealed a possible demand for a shared creative space for resident micro, start-up cultural businesses. The Trust plans to demolish the rear of the theatre and rebuild it to make it fit for the next 50 years, with improved back-stage facilities, better dressing rooms and probably a studio theatre on the top floor of the rear – with everything made fully accessible (which it isn’t at the moment). Whatever those outcomes, the final decisions will be made in the context of the Trust’s already well-articulated vision to “promote well-being through arts for life”.
The City Council’s support is critical. The Trust, as a charity, has no strength of covenant and needed a guarantor. The City Council has underwritten the lease for the first 25 years (the Trust pays all costs including the rent) and has undertaken to step in should the Trust fail – an unlikely event. This significant commitment underlines the Council’s faith in the Trust’s business plan and support for the Trust’s aims.
The Wind in the Willows opens on Saturday December 9th 2017. Tickets from £14 (£11 concessions). See albanytheatre.co.uk/wind-in-the-willows. Schools performances start on Thursday December 7th. This is the first major in-house production at The Albany. Tickets are available for Press Night on Monday December 11th 2017 1930. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.