The building was revived as a community area in 2017, but it needs further support to remain open this winter.
Five years after being identified as being “at risk” of being demolished or redeveloped, an urgent appeal has been made to prevent the closure of one of Manchester’s most historic theatres.
Before being revived as a theatre and arts venue in late 2017 by a community theatre co-operative by the name NIAMOS, the Playhouse Theatre in Hulme had been abandoned for decades. The space is now at risk of closing yet again, and it is in ‘critical’ need of repair and a heating system to get through the winter.
When it was first constructed in 1902, the theatre was known as the Hippodrome. In 1905, it changed names with the theatre next door to become the Grand Junction Theatre. The BBC took charge of the venue in 1956, and notable performers including The Beatles and Nina Simone performed there.
It served as a black cultural hub in the 1990s and later established itself as the first African and Caribbean-run theatre in Europe. Until 1997, it was an important creative and activist hub for the neighbourhood and local residents.
It was listed on the Theatre Trust’s At Risk register after falling into disrepair, but at the end of 2017, the creative collective NIAMOS raised £14,500 from patrons, friends, and donors to put down a deposit in order to prevent it from being permanently closed. The structure has seen several changes, but its most recent use as a community creative space has seen it host a variety of regular events, including spoken word, jam nights, workshops, performances, and support groups.
To prevent the building from closing and to keep it open to the community and artists, the people behind the cultural and community space have just started a crowdfunder with a goal of £50,000. The group says that “significant” debts and operating expenses have put them under a lot of pressure, and they are trying to stay open long enough to submit grant applications for further funding.
The building in Hulme has been managed by a group of local residents and community volunteers for the past five years. They have stated that they want it to remain open as much as possible over the winter and improve the equipment available to local and young artists, but the structure needs significant repairs and a heating system.
The Crowdfunding campaign states: “We need to honour the important legacy of this renowned venue, still independent in the heart of Manchester, and not let another cultural institution be turned into flats. The building is in desperate need of repair and a heating system which we currently do not have at all! Alongside all of this, the running costs of the building and the rising cost of living mean we are under pressure this winter.
“We rely on volunteer support to run and host events for our community and our voluntary members have worked extremely hard to keep the building afloat, but our members cannot give as much of their time as we need and with the challenge of a cold and leaking building we are in need of help to save this space from closing down!!”
“When the current directorship took over the running of the building they also took on significant debts, this has meant we have been two steps forward and one step back. Despite all the hard work of the people who have been running the space voluntarily we need help over the quieter winter months. We need to stay open long enough to apply for further funding bids, including long term support from the Heritage Lottery fund, as we are a grade II listed building.”
Since acquiring the property in 2017, NIAMOS has worked hard to restore it. It now features a performance space in the former auditorium, as well as a rehearsal area, music studios, a kitchen, and a microbrewery.
Working alongside local practitioners and community members, it presently offers nine live music events, 24 workshops, one spoken word event, four choral groups, and eight martial arts courses each month. It also has its own online TV channel and hosts city-wide events such as the Manchester International Festival, Unconvention, Hit n Run, So flute, and S!CK festival.