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Local cultural asset to re-open after £2.4m transformation

ByDave Stopher

Aug 1, 2023

The August Bank Holiday weekend will see stand-up poet Kate Fox, Curious Arts’ Wildflower and a weekend of free activities welcome visitors back to a suburban Newcastle theatre

Following a £2.4m investment and an eight-month wait, a much-loved cultural venue is set to re-open with a host of events and activities over the August Bank Holiday weekend.

Gosforth Civic Theatre (GCT), which first opened its doors in 2016 in a former council building in the heart of the community close to Regent Centre, has undergone major refurbishments that have seen it transformed into a modern, accessible community-focused venue for the people of Newcastle and beyond.

The venue will re-open on Friday 25th August, with a performance from stand-up poet, BBC radio regular and northern treasure Kate Fox, with her show Bigger on the Inside.

Then on Saturday (26th August), visitors to GCT’s improved Café Bar can indulge in a brand-new menu served from its revamped kitchen and deli while taking in Curious Arts’ outdoor performance piece Wildflowerfrom its freshly landscaped courtyard and community garden.

Inside a new Community Studio will be a craft room, while on the theatre’s new stage, audience members will get a taste of the venue’s investment in lighting and sound capabilities as Voices of Virtue Gospel Choirleads a programme of performance and live music, including pieces from young musicians and Liberdade(pronounced Lib-er-darjie), the learning disabled theatre company which founded Gosforth Civic Theatre.

On Sunday 27th August, you can spend the whole day at the theatre with a range of free, family-friendly activities to keep everyone entertained, including GCT Gaming Social and Bubbleologist Jesse Ward. DJ Paula Penman will also be spinning the decks at a summer version of the always popular GCT New Year Family Party, to keep both big and little feet on the dancefloor.

Rob Huggins, GCT’s Chief Executive, said: Gosforth Civic Theatre is an amazing social enterprise; when you buy tickets to a performance, hire us to host your beautiful events, or visit us to enjoy our hospitality, we use the money you spend to provide opportunities for young people with and without learning disabilities and autism.

From our experience if we told you the truth about why Gosforth Civic Theatre exists, you probably wouldn’t believe us; there is a group of people with learning disabilities who set up and run a theatre company called Liberdade. In 2012 they decided they wanted to open a theatre at which everyone was welcome. They wanted to have jobs in their theatre and to provide the opportunities they’d had for other young people, so that is what we did, and that’s how Gosforth Civic Theatre came to be.

This journey to get to where we are makes GCTunique. Add to that a governance structure that empowers and gives a voice to both people with learning disabilities and young people, and you have a cultural building that can create real social change in a community. We think people can sense that when they come and visit us.

The GCT team felt Kate’s show would provide the perfect start to this new chapter in its history, as it’s about her adult diagnosis of autism, blending stand-up and spoken word in a personal memoir marked by her warm performance style.

In it, Kate looks at neurodivergence through the theme of Doctor Who. Taking us through the ways in which the iconic sci-fi show has shaped her view of the world, she shines a light on the idea of ‘normality’ and explains why we’re all bigger on the inside.

She said: “Im excited about GCT’s plans to help give voice and platforms to neurodivergent people and am honoured to feature in its grand re-opening.

“I think my show is a great fit for the theatre’s ongoing mission towards inclusivity and accessibility, and I hope people, whether they have a diagnosis of neurodivergence or not, can find something in it to relate to, and that it makes them both think, and laugh at the same time!”

In the lead-up to her show, Kate will also be working with a young performance group from local organisationAutism Able to produce brand new poems that will be heard for the first time when she takes to the stage at Gosforth Civic Theatre.

Almost two thirds (£1.5 million) of the funding for the renovation has come from the Youth Investment Fund.

GCT is one of 43 organisations in England to benefit from the first wave of Youth Investment Fund grants, announced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Social Investment Business this March. The fund, made up of more than £300 million in grants, aims to build, renovate, or extend youth service facilities, providing a minimum of 45,000 additional positive activities for young people aged between 11 and 18 – in the parts of the country where new spaces and new opportunities are most needed.

The remaining investment for the project came from Arts Council England, The Clothworkers Foundation, The Wolfson Foundation, The Foyle Foundation and The National Lottery Community Fund.

Changes to the venue are significant; they include a new heating system, solar panels on the roof and insulation throughout to reduce the theatre’s environmental impact, saving around 64 tonnes of carbon emissions per year. The venue’s foyer has been brightened thanks to the addition of a huge skylight that brings the outside into the building, while a theatre bar in the auditorium offers a stylish touch to events.

As well as that, the theatrical infrastructure in the auditorium has been completely upgraded, creating one of the most flexible, accessible and energy efficient theatre spaces in the region.

A reconfigured backstage has allowed for an accessibledressing room, a shower room and changing areas for performers, while an expanded and redesigned cafe will be used to provide valuable work placement and training opportunities for young people with learning disabilities and autism.

The new community studio, which will house wellbeing and youth activities, is the perfect place for workshops, meetings and small parties and gatherings.

Last but not least, the furniture throughout the building, including in the auditorium, has been updated along with the décor.

Rob continued: “We hope all our building users will be wowed by the many positive changes we’ve made to the space.

“Community venues are needed more than ever in these challenging times, and they have always been neededfor people to gather and learn about each other; wewant to get to know all our neighbours and welcome all communities at Gosforth Civic Theatre – everyone is welcome and everyone can call it home.

Our learning-disabled company members created GCT because they value the opportunity to get to know the people who live in their local community, and they want to provide opportunities for other young people with and without learning disabilities, to work, create, perform and belong. These opportunities will be significantly enhanced and expanded by this considerable investment.”

Tickets for Kate Fox’s re-opening show are available at gosforthcivictheatre.co.uk, with events across Saturday and Sunday free to attend.