The curtain has risen on a £10m Newcastle Quayside development scheme designed to enhance and sustain the work of Live Theatre.
The scheme, funded by Newcastle City Council and Europe, will see the theatre company, which is based on the Quayside at Broad Chare, expanding its property portfolio and commissioning a new building, to be called LiveWorks, to plug the gap at 57 Quayside between Trinity Chambers – also known as The Customs House – and Flynn’s Bar.
A long-term loan of £6m from the city council and a grant of £1.73m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) have enabled Live Theatre to buy the prime Quayside plot from UK Land Estates and to become landlord of the remaining properties beside the theatre on Broad Chare and round the corner to the wine bar.
Although a further £2m has to be raised, Live Theatre chief executive Jim Beirne, said: “We’re putting in a planning application this week and we hope to get contractors on site for June.
“It’ll be a 12-month build so it will hopefully be finished by June 2015 because the European money needs to be spent by then. It’s a tight schedule but we’re used to doing this sort of thing.”
With city planners and English Heritage having approved the scheme, Mr Beirne expected planning permission to be granted.
LiveWorks will be on four storeys, equal to the height of adjacent buildings, and provide 1,500 square metres of office accommodation with Tyne views.
Behind LiveWorks will be a new green public space – a ‘pocket park’ – and a purpose-built stage for outdoor screenings or performances managed by Live Theatre. On the ground floor of LiveWorks will be a room for meetings or for use by school groups.
Further funding is also to be sought for the refurbishment of a Grade II-listed almshouse, already owned by Live Theatre, which is destined to become a new writing centre for children and young people, modelled on similar facilities in London and New York.
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “I’m really glad that the city council has helped Live Theatre to make this exciting new project a reality.
“It demonstrates our continuing commitment to Newcastle’s cultural scene despite the ravages of austerity and underlines our shared belief that culture creates investment and jobs as well as a great quality of life.”
Mr Beirne said: “We are delighted that the support from ERDF and Newcastle City Council has allowed us to purchase the site for LiveWorks.
“We are excited to move the project into the next phase of design and build and, having just completed a wonderful 40th anniversary year, we are even more excited at the prospect of the thousands of artists, children and young people that will enjoy all these opportunities for the next 40 years.” He said the development, which could bring more than 100 new jobs to the area, resulted from talks which began in 2006 about how Live Theatre could sustain itself and expand its activities in years to come.
Live Theatre currently receives £640,000, about 40% of its annual income, from Arts Council England but the funding body’s budget continues to be squeezed by the Government. “Who knows what’s going to happen in the future to public sector support?” said Mr Beirne.
“What we really want to do is work with more more artists to make more plays, more films and more readings. We want to carry on working with young people and transforming people’s lives but we want to do more of it.
“At the heart of this is a desire to make good quality theatre and these are all things that will make sure we can continue to do it.”
He said LiveWorks should generate up to £350,000 a year for the theatre company which will also benefit from rents from new tenants including Flynns Bar and The Eye On The Tyne pub.
The theatre’s other recent commercial ventures include The Schoolhouse creative hub, with five office units for rent, gastro-pub The Broad Chare and distance learning website beaplaywright.com.
Businessman Paul Callaghan, chairman of Live Theatre and NewcastleGateshead Initiative, said of the LiveWorks site: “This is the last key spot on Newcastle Quayside. We’re not quite sure how long it’s been empty but we believe since the Tyne Bridge opened in 1928.
“I must say Newcastle City Council have been tremendous in their support for this. It wouldn’t have happened without them so I want to give them full credit for recognising Live Theatre’s vision.
He added that the project was significant not just for Live Theatre but also for Newcastle and Gateshead. “It will be an amazing place for people of all ages but particularly for children and young people.”
Live Theatre has only 180 seats but it has built an international reputation for new plays, four of which are due to open around the country.