The £1million replacement of Harrogate Theatre’s ageing roof is well underway in preparation for the hopeful return of live shows this year.
The huge scaffolding structure erected around the 120-year-old venue will remain in place until the roof replacement is complete.
The aim is for the roof to be fully stripped back next month in what will mark a crucial stage of the project. The true extent of the works is expected to be revealed beneath.
David Bown, chief executive of the theatre trust, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the venue was planning for the worst but hoping for the best with its sights set on the return of shows in November.
“This is a huge and complex project in terms of the geography of the building, which is such a difficult site to work on.
“We also have the uncertainty of what we are going to find underneath once the roof is taken off. We just don’t know what will be there – it could be rotten beams.”
If the roof replacement stays on schedule, shows will return in November. This will mark 20 months since the theatre was last filled with spectators in March 2020.
The theatre’s survival has only been possible thanks to around £650,000 in emergency government grants and a fundraising appeal which raised more than £100,000.
There was also a need for the theatre to make 60% of its staff redundant in the wake of £4million losses from cancelled shows.
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Mr Bown said:
“The roof replacement project was due to start last year but when the pandemic hit we just couldn’t get the people power to make it happen. And even though we are in a period of uncertainty, it was still agreed that now was the best time to get it done.
“I can’t quite envisage what it will be like having audiences back – it has been an empty building for so long. But what I am looking forward to though is the return of our pantomime, that is the jewel in the crown of our shows.”
Harrogate Borough Council owns the Grade II-listed theatre and is funding and overseeing the roof replacement works.
The council’s deputy leader councillor, Graham Swift, said once completed the project will provide a theatre fit for the future.
“Like any heritage building of this age and complexity, there will always be a certain amount of conservation and investment required to ensure the building is fit for another 120 years.
“This significant investment will allow the fantastic performances to continue, promote cultural activity in the town, attract visitors and support the local economy at a time when it is needed the most.”