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Historic Bristol Old Vic’s £2.5m bid to become ‘internationally significant’

Bristol Old Vic celebrates its 250th anniversary next year, having opened in 1766. Photo: Philip Vile Bristol Old Vic celebrates its 250th anniversary next year, having opened in 1766. Photo: Philip Vile
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Bristol Old Vic has unveiled plans costing nearly £2.5 million to make the theatre an “internationally significant” heritage destination.

The venue – Britain’s oldest continuously-running producing theatre – is planning to display its collection of nearly 250 years’ worth of artefacts to the public, as well as investing in the building’s oldest areas to ensure their preservation.

Under plans released by the theatre, the building’s Coopers’ Hall is set to receive a complete refurbishment, while money will also be invested in conserving the original 18th-century facade.

An initial £220,500 support grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund will subsidise a nine-month period for the theatre to prepare for displaying its archive on-site, and will fund surveys of parts of the building that require refurbishment.

If the theatre is then successful in applying for the full grant, it will receive nearly £2.5 million to support the heritage development.

Bristol Old Vic chief executive Emma Stenning said that using the building as a heritage space would increase the money available for theatre productions.

“The reality of trying to make a theatre sustainable these days is that you’ve got to look for any possible way of driving business, driving income, driving audiences,” she said.

“Of course, it’s a reality that most theatres sit pretty empty during the day. So if we can really use the historic virtues of this building and this organisation to drive a daytime business, we reckon at the end of the day that’ll put some new cash in the bank account. And we can get that right back on stage and invest in making new theatre.”

Stenning added: “We’re thrilled that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support as it will enable us to push forward with our exciting plans to transform the theatre into an internationally-significant hub of cultural and historical interest.”

The grant from HLF comes as Bristol Old Vic is preparing for the final phase of renovation work on its front-of-house spaces, after the auditorium and backstage areas were refurbished in 2012.

As part of the new project, the theatre’s artistic director, Tom Morris, will partner with architect Haworth Tompkins and a creative team to design new shutters for the street front of the building, which will be inspired by the theatre’s collection of printed materials.

Nerys Watts, head of HLF South West, said the funding for the heritage project was timely “as it will ensure Bristol Old Vic is in great shape to mark its 250th anniversary” next year. The theatre first opened its doors in 1766.

She added: “We’re hugely supportive of these plans to protect an 18th-century Bristol landmark and to open it up for many more people’s enjoyment.”

If the theatre is successful with its full HLF grant application next spring, it is expected that the heritage project will be completed by autumn 2018.

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