Dorchester is the only county town in England without a dedicated arts facility or theatre. For many years we have wanted to put that right, and the new plans for The Maltings at Brewery Square mean that this ambition is one step closer to being realised.
Over the past few months Dorchester Arts and the Maltings Arts (the charitable body set up to plan and run the new facility) have been working with top architects Haworth Tompkins, theatre design specialists Charcoalblue and arts consultants ArtReach to create a new cost-effective and financially viable plan for an arts facility in the Maltings building at Brewery Square.
The theatre and arts centre would bring new jobs and an annual £4.6m – £5m boost to the local economy, as well as providing a top-class arts, leisure and community facility in an ideal location.
The plan retains some of the features of the original design from 2007, such as seating capacity, but has been completely updated to reflect changes in theatre design and the increasing need for financial sustainability. The key features are:
- a main theatre with 450 seats, easily convertible to a flat floor venue to accommodate 600+
- a 100-capacity studio
- a fantastic café/bar under the ‘cones’ of the Maltings building
- meeting rooms and conference space
- all the necessary offices and backstage facilities for delivering a top-quality programme of performances and participatory activities
- the design will enhance and complement the historic character of the building
It will also incorporate an annexe housing commercial activities that will provide an income stream for the venue and make it largely self-sufficient. We are in discussion with our peers (such as Live Works in Newcastle) and potential partners about how this might be achieved.
The cost of creating the arts facilities would be around £8.8m, with a further sum (currently £2.4m) required if the commercial annexe were to go ahead. A fundraising plan has been drawn up and once the initial funds are secured this will be further developed.
We are hugely grateful to Dorchester Town Council, West Dorset District Council and the Duchy of Cornwall for their support in the creation of the new plans and the team at the Maltings Arts have recently taken key stakeholders on site tours to show them how the new plan would work in reality.
£1m has already been secured from a share of the Section 106 funds built up mainly by the development of Poundbury and we are now working on many other sources of funding. The Maltings Arts have already had encouraging preliminary discussions with other possible funders, including Arts Council England.
We were delighted to move to the Corn Exchange and feel much more embedded in the town, but The Maltings would be a step-change in terms of what we would contribute to the life of the town and wider county, both economically and socially. As well as providing much-needed jobs, especially for young people, the arts facilities and café/bar would be a hub for all sorts of community activities, from a place to have cup of coffee with a friend to a potential venue for thousands of people to see a Dorchester Community Play.