Major restoration underway at New Mills Art Theatre to revive its classic stage

New mills Art Theatre President Colin Brown
New mills Art Theatre President Colin Brown
  • Complex work underway to reinforce historic stage arch, costing £21,000
  • Art Theatre needs to find £250,000 as part of wider restoration project
  • Fundraising appeal is launched and has already reached over £9,000
  • The New Mills Empire and Hippodrome first opened in June 1911

New Mills Art Theatre is to undergo a major stage in its restoration as the theatre’s historic proscenium will be reinforced to ensure its survival.

The detailed proscenium arch of the Jodrell Street theatre is one of the structural walls of the building and has cracked in the middle, giving way to the weight of stage equipment.

New mills Art Theatre during major work to reinforce the arch over the stage

New mills Art Theatre during major work to reinforce the arch over the stage

President Colin Brown said: “It’s become a danger so we are going to establish a feature of the theatre’s safety so we can rest knowing we’ve addressed a serious issue.”

Currently contractors are casting a structural concrete beam across the arch to support it, he added.

“It’s quite a complex job with a lot of scaffolding and has cost the theatre £21,000. “This is the best way to do it as far as the structural engineers are concerned. If we had to do it any other way it would mean taking the roof off.”

The Art Theatre is a story of two buildings, Mr Brown explained.

We’ve applied for Arts Council and Heritage Lottery funding but apparently it’s not the sort of project they would support, so we are appealing now for fundraising and hoping philanthropic organisations can help us.

Colin Brown, New Mills Art Theatre

He said: “It’s a story of two buildings. The building you see from outside - many people wouldn’t put down as a theatre - was built by a local businessman who saw New Mills was on the up and recognised the need for some entertainment.”

The New Mills Empire and Hippodrome was opened in June 1911.

It started off playing films as well as unusual acts on stage including a pair of ladies who performed multiple feats at once – like knitting, eating bananas and blowing a post horn while submerged in a tank of water.

It’s second owners, Walters and Law, closed the theatre for a total reconstruction in 1922, when they added its proscenium and new name, the Art Picture House. Since then work has continued with a restoration of the interior in the 1980s, but there is a lot more to be done in the theatre to bring the building up to standard, said Mr Brown.

New mills Art Theatre during major work to reinforce the arch over the stage

New mills Art Theatre during major work to reinforce the arch over the stage

“A new roof is essential and we’d also like disabled access and toilets, and to refurbish the foyer and bar area.

“The aesthetics of the interior are excellent and are our best feature, but the facade could certainly use some serious attention to make it look more attractive, but that’s not essential.”

Sadly the task is too great solely for the dedicated team of volunteers who have supported and maintained the theatre over the past 50 years, and The Friends of The Art Theatre who have consistently raised funds for decades from producing the annual panto – profits which have gone back into maintaining the theatre.

“We’d need £250,000 in total,” said Mr Brown. “We’ve applied for Arts Council and Heritage Lottery funding but apparently it’s not the sort of project they would support, so we are appealing now for fundraising and hoping philanthropic organisations can help us.”

New mills Art Theatre President Colin Brown looks at the work to reinforce the arch over the stage

New mills Art Theatre President Colin Brown looks at the work to reinforce the arch over the stage

Despite many transformations since it opened, the Art Theatre has been in constant use and acts as a home to various groups including the Take Part at the Art group, coaching five to 18-year-olds in drama, dance and singing.

Mr Brown added: “It’ll be nice to have performances without the scaffolding there.”

Work will be ongoing for the coming weeks and the theatre hopes to clear scaffolding away as soon as possible to return to normal usage.

The theatre said on its Facebook page: “Work will continue over the next two weeks to allow the formation of the rebar and shuttering for the second concrete pour to complete the re-supporting.

“Unfortunately, the costs have gone up to £21,600 due to additional works required, but the good news is that we have already received donations totalling over £9,000.”

• Donations can be taken by PayPal via www.arttheatre.co.uk, or alternatively people can text the word ARTSOS to 70660 to give £3. The £3 donation goes direct to the fundraising appeal.