Wilton’s last hope rests on Lottery decision

Natalie Woolman

Wilton’s Music Hall is in the “last chance saloon” as it awaits the Heritage Lottery Fund’s decision about a £2.25 million grant to stabilise the mid-Victorian building.

The London venue, the oldest music hall of its kind in the world, needs £3.5 million to make it structurally sound, according to its director, Frances Mayhew.

HLF will decide on May 24 whether to grant £2.25 million of the total in principle, after which Wilton’s will have to prepare more detailed plans and raise £1.25 million before the funds are finally approved and deposited for building to start.

Mayhew estimated it would take the organisation around 18 months to raise the £1.25 million if the funding application is approved later this month, adding that the organisation currently spends around £10,000 a month just to keep the building open.

Speaking to The Stage, she said: “As an organisation we must pour about £10,000 a month into holding it in one piece – just to allow you to walk in the door – and it takes up all our time, energy and cash to do that. Even at that rate, it is difficult for us to catch up with the bits that are falling down. We are not really improving it, just holding it together.

“We are never going to beat that unless we stop properly and put in the full amount of money that is required to stop it falling apart.”

The restoration project would see the foundations of the music hall rebuilt, proper drainage installed and the balcony in the auditorium stabilised. Mayhew also said that 50% of the rooms in the Wilton’s complex did not have floors but they would be added if the funding was approved.

An education programme also forms part of Wilton’s application to the Lottery. This includes proposals for children at two local primary schools to follow the building project up to completion and the creation of a public archive about the history of the local area for visitors.

Wilton’s previously applied for HLF funding in 2007, but its application was rejected. Mayhew said the previous application was more arts-led and the new version is more heritage-focused, adding that her team worked with the National Trust before submitting the new request for funds.

Mayhew said: “This is the second time we have applied for public funds and hopefully it won’t be the second time we are rejected, because even then it was urgent.”

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