In 2008 the last major surviving theatre in the area The Tameside Hippodrome closed its doors after Live Nation decided not to renew its contract on the building and the council failed to find another group to take it over. The council reported that the building which had been fully operational up until its doors closed would now cost three million pounds (a figure that seemed to go up from just over one million pounds in less than a year) to make the venue operational again.
A working Group set up to look in to the venues future claimed that it would never be operational as a theatre again and gave up on the venue for good. Reports came out that the grand building was set to be demolished but luckily many people including myself protested against this and after many letters and phone calls the building was given a grade 2 listing and the demolition of the building was prevented.
However the building now stands deserted and boarded up in the centre of Tameside, destined to become yet another great venue that will crumble away for years to come, but can nothing be done to save this building?
The problem I always saw with the running of the Hippodrome was that having a company like Live Nation involved meant that the programming of the venue was always going to suffer. Live Nation owned the Palace and Opera House at the time and those venues were far more desirable in location to book touring shows in, that meant that apart from one nighters Live Nation did not really book anything else in to the venue.
I always thought (and still do) that the Hippodrome should have followed the example of venues like the Stockport Plaza who are run by a trust and have kept the venue running successfully. Local groups from Am Dram, New Writings, Concerts, Bands, and Conferences etc. could use the building, let a local trust take over the venue with support from the council. I know that this was looked in to but due to the price of the ‘restoration’ of the Hippodrome it seems to have been rejected (even though the success rates of many theatres that have done this have been very high).
In my own opinion, I don’t believe for a second that the Hippodrome would cost over three million to return the venue to a working theatre/concert space for the area. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying the council lied but some things on the financial breakdown costs of work on the theatre were less about fixing up the venue and more about adding things to the venue. The original cost of the overhaul on the venue only a year or so before the closure was around one and a half million. Yes, that’s a lot of money and yes it could be a risk, but for the sake of theatre in the area and to give this building that has stood since the early 1900’s a chance, surely the future of this venue could be reassessed.
It’s rare in this day an age that in a major area like Tameside, there is not one working major venue. Just up the road in Hyde, a campaign group have been working for years to save the Theatre Royal which closed down many years ago but is still in a good enough state to restore. The group are trying to raise the money to buy the venue from the current owner who has done nothing with the venue other than let it rot since he took it over.
Much like the Hippodrome, it’s a huge venue in a great location for the area, these are not small venues, both venues had well over a 1000 seats, bigger than many West End theatres, the stage size of the Hippodrome and Theatre Royal were both decent sizes.
When the Tameside Hippodrome closed the council did initially promise to maintain the building by continuing to heat the building to prevent it falling into disrepair, but how long will the council (if they still are)keep the heating on, after all it’s an expense with no hope of income?
There are many organisations in Tameside, such as theatre groups, both fringe and amateur dramatic groups who struggle to find venues to programme original material that is not Annie or similar. Many groups have to be self sufficient and there are many success stories of bands in the Tameside area for example, that would have welcomed the opportunity to play a larger stage than the local pub, many have had to relocate or produce outside the Tameside area, moving into Manchester where the council seems to embrace the arts.
There are bands that are still based in Tameside that have secured recording contracts and are definitely on the up yet have not had the opportunity to play decent size venues in their own area to local audiences, in addition companys like mine who are based in Stalybridge and rehearse here have never performed in the area as venues here are just unsuitable for the kind of theatre that we produce so we have also made Manchester City Centre our main base. This has a knock on effect on the local economy as people have to socialise outside the Tameside area, evidence to support the lack of a nightlife etc. is on display throughout places like Ashton where bars and clubs have simply shut up shop and buildings stand empty.
A new theatre was mentioned in the minutes from the original conversations about the future of the Hippodrome, as of yet I have not seen any new theatres go in to development in the area. The working group set up seem to have a plan in place (at least on paper) to support theatre in the area which is a positive move, sadly at the moment a theatre scene does not exist in Tameside other than for stage school amateur dramatics. I have nothing against Am Dram groups, I started at one myself and even ran one, but surely Tameside council can’t just think that giving those children’s organisations money and support is helping maintain theatre in the area?
As a fan of theatre as well as a lover of old theatre buildings I really hope Tameside Council will step up and give this venue a second chance. It’s heartbreaking to walk past it and see this huge building left empty and knowing that before long, the damage inside after years of neglect will mean that it will be much harder to reopen this venue. It’s a shame when Derby Council has been so supportive of the all but senselessly destroyed Derby Hippodrome and Tameside are willing to let another great theatre in the area vanish.
I strongly believe that there is still the demand in this area, many people in Tameside enjoy theatre too.
- Craig Hepworth