Morecambe Winter Gardens secures £2.8m for refurbishment

By Tim Aldred

23 Mar 2023

Morecambe Winter Gardens

Morecambe Winter Gardens has secured a £2.78m grant from the Cultural Development Fund to help bring the historic theatre back to prominence.

The venue first opened in 1897 and once attracted the biggest music and variety stars of the day, helping Morecambe become one of the best-loved seaside resorts in the country.

However, the venue closed in the mid-1970s as Morecambe’s economy, like seaside towns across the UK, began to collapse.

A group of dedicated volunteers formed the Preservation Trust in 2006 and have since work to clean, restore and raise funds in a bid to bring the building back to its former glory.

The drive to secure these latest funds was led by Prof Vanessa Toulmin, professor of entertainment history at the University of Sheffield, who was born and grew up in Morecambe.

For the past three years, she has been chair of the Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust, a group of volunteers who are trying to restore the building.

She said: "This is a historic day for the Winter Gardens and marks the single biggest investment in the theatre for over 100 years. I am overjoyed for the residents of Morecambe who have shown such love and loyalty to the building over the many years of disappointment, thankful for the support of my board, our partners, our donors and funders and of course our wonderful volunteers.

"We still have a long way to go, but this funding gets us nearer to our ambition of making our building sing and be known once again as the people’s palace – the Albert Hall of the North."

The money will bring a cash injection of £2.5 million of capital to the building, alongside £700,000 of additional funding including £200,000 from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. Proposed work includes a two-storey extension including toilets, accessible lifts and new fire escape, full electrical rewiring, essential AV and lighting equipment, including an acoustic shell for the fly-tower and other essential conservation work.  

Alongside the capital works, the Preservation Trust will work with partners, including From the Fields, known for the hugely popular Kendall Calling and Blue Dot festivals, and Morecambe and Lancaster arts groups to programme new events and music activities over the next three years. 

Crucial to the development of the building is a Young Creatives Initiative in partnership with Lancaster and Morecambe College, which will see a cohort of 75 young creatives from Morecambe and Lancaster given the opportunity to have work experience, paid training from national bodies with local and regional cultural partners.  

David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, said: "It is absolutely fantastic news that the Winter Gardens has been awarded £2.78 million by the government. It was a fantastic bid, which I was proud to support and it is a testament to how strong a bid the team at the Winter Gardens, led by Professor Vanessa Toulmin put in.

"I believe it is the first time that an award of this type has been awarded to a Trust running a project and not a council or larger organisation. Well done to everyone at the Winter Gardens who put this bid together and I know what a huge impact this funding will have at restoring the building to its former glory and protecting the wonderful Winter Gardens for generations to come."

The Winter Gardens will additionally fundraise a further £200,000 – 7.5 per cent – of the remaining funds towards important conservation of the Grade II interiors including the impressive ceramic tiles in the main foyer. Over the three years of the grant the Winter Gardens will be transformed into a fully functioning 1,600-capacity music venue.

The Winter Gardens has also received £1.6m of funding over the last three years from Historic England Theatres Trust, Architectural Heritage Fund, the University of Sheffield, Lancaster City Council, Morecambe Town Council, Lancashire County Council and over 500 individual donors from the public.

Enjoyed this? Read more from Tim Aldred

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