FCBStudios plan submitted for low carbon theatre for Oldham

Oldham Council have submitted a planning application for the development of a new site for Oldham Theatre.

The new proposed building provides a variety of spaces for performing arts, culture, and community in a modern, accessible, and equitable venue for the use and enjoyment of the people of Oldham and beyond. In line with Oldham’s own climate goals, it is to be very low carbon, in construction and operation.

The proposals introduce a new purpose built and acoustically isolated 300 seat auditorium   between two existing heritage buildings which are proposed to be remodelled to create a 120 seat studio, supportive facilities, together with education, event and public front-of house functions including bar and café areas.

The new £24m project will enhance Oldham’s cultural offer, create additional jobs, and attract visitors into the town centre.

Simon Branson, Partner at FCBStudios said:

“This is a bold and innovative project that aims to be a real exemplar for low carbon performing arts building design and is shaped by and connected to the community and town it serves.“

The building proposes the re-use of two heritage buildings in Oldham town centre – a former post office building (Grade II listed) and a former Friends meeting house. The new-build aspect, set between the two existing buildings is proposed as a predominantly timber structure that houses the main auditorium, with a triple height front of house foyer opening to the Town’s main thoroughfare of Union Street with an additional entrance connecting into Oldham Civic Gardens.

The foyer is a light-filled, uplifting, and welcoming space with the uppermost floor acting as a shop window to workshop spaces with mannequins and props visible. The exposed engineered timber structure introduces a warmth to the space with activity spread through all areas and levels. The first-floor balcony edge is activated through using the balustrade as a drinks shelf with various seating opportunities spread throughout the vibrant space.

Simon continued:

“The exposed fabric of the existing buildings tells the story of their previous uses, and will give the new spaces texture, warmth, and character. The reuse and retrofit of the buildings, along with the timber structure of the new build keeps the embodied carbon impact of the theatre to an absolute minimum.”

Low operational carbon design approaches have been adopted by the project from the outset with aspirational levels of performance targeted by the project design team. The building has been designed as a fully electrically powered facility and will include some onsite power generation, ambitious building fabric thermal and airtightness performance targets to support a reduced energy demand. The resulting design is indicating the potential for a national exemplar performing arts building project.

The design to date has been informed by consultation and workshops with local groups including local schools, Oldham College students and community groups. Relevance and inclusivity are cornerstones of the project that will serve the local and regional community and further beyond.

Within the former Friends meeting house a double-height volume is reintroduced as a performance space with the flexibility to bring in natural daylight or quickly transformed to a black box studio that can welcome smaller scale shows, artist development work and educational events. The former Postal building public hall is remodelled to be an accessible and inclusive space dedicated to education and community uses.

Cllr Arooj Shah, Leader of Oldham Council, said:

“This is such an exciting next step for Oldham Coliseum, theatregoers in Oldham and beyond, and everyone involved who has helped bring this new theatre to life. This new space won’t just be a theatre; it will be a place that encourages people to come together with friends and family to get creative, socialise with one another and celebrate the arts. I personally can’t wait to see our new theatre throw open its doors.”

Oldham Council is the recipient of £1.845m from Arts Council England, for cultural activities in the borough while the new building is delivered. The theatre is due to complete in 2026 – giving certainty to the future of performing arts in the town and building on Oldham’s cultural legacy.

The proposals have been developed with members of the current Oldham Coliseum Board and other cultural organisations, with support from the Arts Council.

The project team is led by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, with Max Fordham, Renaissance and Stage Right Theatre Consultants.