Leith Theatre campaign receives welcome capital boost

Our campaign to revive the Leith Theatre has received a welcome boost with £1m of funding confirmed in the City of Edinburgh Council’s capital budget for 2018-2023. 

The Council agreed the capital budget for the next five years at a meeting held on 22 February. Leith Theatre was one of a number of recipients to share in £10m provision for cultural infrastructure projects in the city. 

The commitment is the first major capital contribution to the project which aims to transform the 1500 capacity main auditorium, which has been out of regular use since the early 1980s, along with other spaces within the complex into a multi-space, accessible venue supporting arts, community and events. 

The funding comes at an exciting time for the project. It follows a small grant from the Architectural Heritage Fund which has enabled the appointment of a design team to carry out an up-to-date Feasibility Study of the building and help with the development of plans and costs for the refurbishment. 2018 also promises another programme of exciting events which will see the main auditorium temporarily re-animated, kicking off with the return of the Hidden Door Festival on 25th May - 3rd June. 

Jack Hunter, Chair of the Leith Theatre Trust, which has been campaigning to save the venue since the Council proposed selling it in 2004, says: “This is fantastic news. The funding from the council will kick-start our drive towards assembling the full funding package required to deliver this vision of a vibrant complex, hosting cultural, entertainment, leisure, civic and educational events.”

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Opened in 1932, initially as a Town Hall, Leith Theatre was built in the aftermath of the union between Leith and Edinburgh and is often said to have been a gift to the people of Leith. It operated as a successful community hub until it was badly damaged by a parachute bomb in 1941. Eventually reopening in 1961, this time as a fully equipped Theatre, for the following two decades the venue played host to world class operas, composers and performing artists as a home for the Edinburgh International Festival and to international musical acts such as AC/DC, Kraftwerk and Thin Lizzy. The Council closed the building to regular use in 1983 although continued to operate as a venue for the Edinburgh International Festival until 1989.

Having been out of use for nearly thirty years the main auditorium is currently in a state of substantial disrepair. The Trust's vision for the building would see it brought back to life to host live music, theatre and large-scale cultural events while the smaller spaces in the venue continue to be the focus of community and commercial events including weddings, civic celebrations, workshops, classes, and corporate functions.

With the support from the Council the project has taken a significant first step towards fully realising the potential of this important public asset to once again be a creative, community hub for the people of Leith and the city of Edinburgh.

Susie Gray