Greater Manchester theatre to get bubble-shaped temporary home as talks about its future rumble on

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The future of the theatre has been an ongoing debate

Oldham’s Coliseum Theatre is moving to a new home – albeit temporarily. A dome-shaped pop-up venue is due to be built for Oldham’s much-loved theatre, whose famous venue on Fairbottom Street shut its doors in March last year. 

The new “Oldham Coliseum Theatre at the Roundabout” was submitted for planning permission this week and is due to open from Thursday April 25 to Sunday July 14 once it’s approved. Seating up to 167 visitors, the canopied space will host a series of pop-up events taking place over the summer. 

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A planning statement said: “Oldham Coliseum Theatre is inviting people living in and around Oldham, as well as visitors, to its 2024 spring and summer programme of theatre, live performance and creative activities.” 

“The temporary structure has been chosen because … it can quickly be installed with minimal disruption to the other area users, enabling the space to open quickly to the general public inviting visitors to discover theatre within the Oldham area.”

The 15m “geodome”, built by Total Fabrications, will take up a portion of the Civic Centre car park, which is no longer in as much demand since council teams moved to the new Spindles offices earlier this month. 

But the ‘temporary venue’ is just that – a stopgap solution while discussions about the theatre’s future home rumbles on

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Campaign group Save Oldham Coliseum Theatre and opposition councillors called for the historic venue to be saved, instead of relocating it to the town centre. At a full council meeting on Wednesday March 13, council bosses committed to revisiting the option to restore the 135-year-old theatre. 

Council leader Arooj Shah said “No options have been ruled out, including any future use of Fairbottom Street” but noted the situation “is complicated, which means it’s taking a long time”. 

The “jewel in the crown for Oldham” was closed down after Arts Council England withdrew £1.8m in funding in 2023 due to concerns about its financial situation and management. Its closure was a cause of heartbreak in the community, where it was celebrated particularly for its raucous pantomimes. 

But long before that, the Coliseum Board was working with the council to find a new space where they could ensure wheelchair access and build a new cafe and bar to help support the theatre. A £27m project fell through in 2018 after it was deemed too costly.

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Oldham's Coliseum TheatreOldham's Coliseum Theatre
Oldham's Coliseum Theatre

Since then, a new plan to build a £24m venue incorporating the old Friends Meeting House on Greaves Street has been proposed. The plan is still in early stages and would only be completed in 2026 if it goes ahead.

But some councillors in the chambers worried the project would be added to a “casualty list” of abandoned projects seen in Oldham over the years. They referred to a recent inspection that found the Coliseum’s doors could be reopened if half a million pounds worth of repairs were completed. 

“But I fear that this ship has already sailed,” said Coun Dave Arnott a the meeting, “and we shall see another part of Oldham’s rich heritage lost forever.”

For Lauren Clancy from the Oldham Coliseum Board, the priority is simply on having somewhere to create and perform productions for the Oldham public.

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Clancy told the LDRS: “The important thing for us is that people living in Oldham have the opportunity to experience theatre and live performance, so we’re pleased to be working with the council to progress plans for a new space within the town’s cultural quarter. 

“At the same time, we’re also delighted to be bringing a pop up theatre to the Oldham’s town centre and a host of events and opportunities to get creative this spring and summer.”

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