The future of the Fairbottom Street Theatre, one of the oldest still operating in the UK, is in jeopardy after the Coliseum failed to secure funding from the Arts Council England (ACE).
The theatre, which has been a staple of British theatrical culture since 1885, relies on ACE to support its operations, including its popular Christmas pantomimes.
Efforts to support the theatre
The Coliseum had applied for £615,182 a year until 2026, a total of over £1.84 million, but its application was unsuccessful. In response, Arts Council England said it received a record number of applications and had to make difficult decisions. Despite the setback, the council of Oldham West and Royton MP Jim McMahon have pledged to work with the Coliseum to find a solution.
On Monday, a protest led by equity members was held outside the ACE offices in Manchester, attended by former Coronation Street star Julie Hesmondhalgh. The protest demanded a reversal of cuts to arts organisations, including the Coliseum. Actor Maxine Peake also took to Twitter to call for the preservation of the “fabulous” and “brilliant” theatre that has seen major names such as Charlie Chaplin, Minnie Driver, and Ralph Fiennes perform on its stage.
Thoughts from artists and political leaders
Artistic director Chris Lawson said the Coliseum was determined to continue its program of shows and was exploring options. CEO Susan Wildman encouraged continued support from the public, whether through ticket purchases or donations.
Cllr Elaine Taylor, cabinet member for culture and leisure, expressed sadness over the Coliseum’s funding failure. MP Jim McMahon was similarly disappointed, saying that the loss of funding put jobs at risk and was a blow to the arts in the area. He added that he would be meeting with the theatre’s management and the Equity union to discuss the situation.
“We’re saddened to hear that the Coliseum has been unsuccessful in securing funding from the Arts Council this round. The Coliseum is iconic in Oldham and is so important to the arts and culture offering of the town.
“From theatrical, musical and comedic performances to family pantomimes and activities, the Coliseum’s contribution is widely recognised by the council and Oldham residents, and its varied programme is much-loved by our communities and across Greater Manchester. We will work with the Coliseum and support the board as they look at applying for transition funding.”Cllr Elaine Taylor, Cabinet Member for Culture and Leisure
Actions by Arts Council England
Arts Council England affirmed its support for the cultural offering in Oldham, stating that it values the work of the Coliseum and has supported it through its funding programs for a long time. The council also stated that it is working with Oldham council on development opportunities for the town.
Despite the uncertainty, the Coliseum remains committed to delivering its program of shows and preserving its 135-year history as a cornerstone of Oldham’s arts and culture. The public’s support, through ticket purchases and donations, will play a crucial role in ensuring the survival of this beloved theatre.
Photo credit: DanceWearCentral