Additional funding sought for flagship arts and entertainment venue
South Somerset District Council’s Executive Committee will consider a report next week which will seek to agree recommending to Full Council later in the month an additional investment for The Octagon Theatre. This investment will help fund the refurbishment and development of the venue and transform it into a flagship venue for arts and entertainment for people in Somerset and across a wider catchment.
The stunning redevelopment will help to boost the local economy as well as the physical, social and cultural regeneration of South Somerset. The project could now potentially cost £29.01m, an increase of £6m which is proposed to be funded by prudential borrowing.
Building projects are currently affected by an unprecedented demand for materials and labour within the construction sector. This rapid growth in demand has been fuelled by a combination of factors, but primarily:
- Post Brexit construction labour migration away from the UK
- The commencement of a large number of projects following the Covid industry shutdown
- The interruptions to supply chains following the Covid pandemic
These factors have created a level of cost price inflation unseen in the industry for several decades. There are also significant inflationary pressures occurring currently in other sectors, for example in the field of energy and natural gas supply. Energy prices have a significant effect on the price of construction materials.
A number of funding streams have been explored to make this ambitious redevelopment possible. Last year the government announced a £10million grant towards the project via the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to be managed by Arts Council England. The team is also exploring funding options from trusts and foundations that will bring national funding to support the project as well as fundraising events that communities can support and play their part. These include the ‘Name A Seat’ campaign that allows individuals to be part of this exciting development.
Adam Burgan, Arts and Entertainment Venues Manager said: “Our plans for The Octagon are to create a flagship centre for the creative arts that will provide amazing opportunities for our residents and bring world class artists to Somerset. The plans see The Octagon Theatre transformed into a centre of excellence that will spark economic regeneration for the area and so many opportunities for residents to improve their well-being. The venue will mean less trips out of the county to access brilliant shows and entertainment with superb events right on your doorstep.”
The redevelopment includes:
- the construction of a fly tower
- increasing the main auditorium seating capacity from 622 to 900 but introducing a balcony
- two new smaller cinema/studio spaces
- a dance studio
- a community studio
- a café bar
- improved front of house and customer facilities
- improved backstage accessibility
Councillor Val Keitch, Leader of South Somerset District Council, said: “When The Octagon Theatre (then known as The Johnson Hall) first opened its doors in 1974, it served its purpose as a venue where people could come and dance, listen to music or watch shows. The needs of the community changed and in 2003, the venue was refurbished with an additional dance studio added and the front of house area extended. Again, it served its purpose as a place people could come and do all that they could before, but now also take part in their own creative dance classes.
“Fast forward to today and we are at the point now where once again the needs of the local community have changed and we want to add more seats for people to enjoy cultural events, more space for dance classes and other activities, a café area that’s enlarged so people can relax and enjoy time with loved ones or on their own and also now we want to add cinema screening areas because people want to discover a new world of entertainment showcasing the best of mainstream films alongside British, independent and foreign language films. The Octagon is more than just a theatre, it’s a space to create and provide amazing opportunities for our residents and bring world class arts to Somerset.”
Councillor Mike Best, Portfolio Holder for Leisure & Culture, added: “The Octagon theatre redevelopment project isn’t just a case of putting back what was already there, it’s about creating opportunities for our residents and visitors from outside South Somerset. The plans have evolved to create a flagship centre for the creative arts and will see The Octagon Theatre transformed into a centre of excellence. The redeveloped Octagon Theatre will allow more residents to access quality cultural activities which in turn will enable health communities which are cohesive, sustainable and enjoy a high quality of life; part of the councils key themes for delivery.”