Big plans for much-loved Derby city theatres to leap forward

Published: 5 April 2024

Guildhall at night

The Guildhall Theatre

Plans to restore Derby’s beloved Guildhall Theatre and enhance Derby Theatre are set to move forward next week, as part of a major investment putting culture at the heart of the city.

Next week Derby City Council’s Cabinet will agree terms for use of £20 million Government Levelling Up Funding allocated to Derby. The funding will be split evenly between the Guildhall Theatre and Derby Theatre. Combined the two projects will generate an additional £2.7m per year for the local economy.

A partnership agreement has been drawn up by the two organisations to agree details of how the funding will be spent, with the Council’s Cabinet set to agree the terms of the agreement next week. The £10m allocated to the Guildhall Theatre will contribute to the restoration of the Grade II listed building to its former glory and once again welcome audiences.

Restoration plans for the Guildhall Theatre will include a new front of house experience with enhanced foyer as well as a new ground floor cafe and box office opening onto the Market Place. The auditorium will also be remodelled to increase the seating capacity to around 280.

Back of house facilities will also be renovated to make the venue more accessible, other improvements include refurbished dressing rooms and the installation of a new service lift.  A new courtyard will also be included in the works, adjacent to Derby’s historic Market Hall, which is due to re-open in the spring of 2025 following major renovations.

Councillor Nadine Peatfield, Deputy Leader of Derby City Council and Cabinet Member for City Centre, Regeneration, Culture and Tourism, said:

By bringing the Guildhall Theatre back into use, we can not only restore one of our historic buildings but create more space for community-led arts groups to perform right in Derby’s cultural heart.

We’re on a mission to put culture at the heart of our city, bringing pride to our high streets, and attracting further investment into the city. Change is coming and what is planned for Derby’s Market Place is truly exciting.

Derby Theatre’s £10 million allocation will enable the Theatre and the University of Derby to complete phase one of its New Horizons project, delivering a state-of-the-art new accessible studio theatre and Learning and Research Hub.

The Learning and Research Hub will allow the Theatre and University to develop further the undergraduate and postgraduate offer onsite in a professional theatre continuing to make the most of and enhance the unique connection between students, professional artists, participants and audiences.

Sarah Brigham, Artistic Director and CEO, Derby Theatre, said:

These are exciting times for Derby Theatre as we continue to trailblaze new ways of training the next generation of professionals and creating high quality theatre for our communities. We are known for working directly with people from all backgrounds to release their creativity and this first phase of expansion on our current site will allow us to do even more of that.

I'm excited that as we approach our 50th birthday we are adding a new auditorium to the site and our longer term plans will see a refreshed front of house and backstage facilities.

Professor Kathryn Mitchell CBE DL, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby and Chair of Derby Theatre Board of Trustees, said:

Derby Theatre makes a significant contribution to the cultural life of our city, and provides unique opportunities for the University’s students to gain real-life experience and practical skills in a working theatre environment.  

As a Civic university, we are proud to support and champion the great work it does in opening doors and widening participation in cultural activities among our diverse communities.   

We look forward to working closely with the City Council and all our partners to ensure continued growth and development to further enhance its positive impact. 

The Guildhall restoration works are currently planned to begin on site in summer 2025 and be completed in late 2027.

The Guildhall already needed £10m of repairs to prevent the building falling into disrepair. In total the extensive restoration is expected to cost £24.55 million, which will be funded by a combination of the £10 million from the Levelling Up Funding and £14.55 million from the Council’s capital budget.

Work will also be carried out at 30 and 31 Market Place, which adjoin the Guildhall, allowing them to be brought back into use and contribute to the city.

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