Business at usual at Cumbernauld Theatre as the stage is set for a £4m replacement

Written by Scott Campbell. Scott Campbell
Published at 16:29 on 5 February 2014.
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Plans will see the Theatre moved to Cumbernauld Academy. Pic: Cumbernauld Media.

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FANS of Cumbernauld Theatre have been regaling anecdotes and giving their reaction to the news that Cumbernauld Theatre could close in a few years’ time, when a brand new venue could be opened inside the promised new build of ‘Cumbernauld Academy’.

Councillors at North Lanarkshire Council voted yesterday afternoon (4th February) in favour of council proposals to drop the curtain on Cumbernauld Theatre, with a £4m upgrade on the way for the ageing performance venue.

At the authority’s Learning and Leisure Services committee yesterday afternoon, the council’s proposals were given the thumbs up; proposals which would see a new Cumbernauld Theatre established within thin the promised new build ‘Cumbernauld Academy’ campus.

As we reported on Tuesday evening, members of the Learning and Leisure Services committee were asked to approve the authority’s plans, with the committee’s report on the matter saying that the proposal would lead to “exciting opportunities” for ‘Cumbernauld Academy’.

The agenda for the committee read: “…a campus approach to include Cumbernauld Theatre presents an exciting opportunity for the curriculum which could provide the new Cumbernauld Academy with a strong arts and culture specialism. It would be proposed that in this instance due to the specialism that the theatre would bring, the school would access the relevant enhanced theatre accommodation for curriculum use during the school day.”

“The theatre already delivers youth dance and drama workshops as well as spaces for professional adult artists, writers and musicians and community groups in addition to traditional productions,” the agenda added. 

“The prospect of having a living and breathing professional theatre company linked to Cumbernauld Academy presents a one off opportunity for both the school community and the wider community.”

In a statement yesterday afternoon Councillor Jim Logue, convener of the Learning and Leisure Services committee said: "Cumbernauld Theatre Trust is one of the most progressive and respected in the country, with over 20,000 people attending events each year and hundreds of people taking part in drama and dance classes each week. This exciting development will give the people of Cumbernauld a facility of national significance and go a long way to matching the group's ambitions.

"By sharing the site with the new Cumbernauld Academy, the development also makes financial as well as common sense as costs will be lower as factors such as ground works, car parking, plant rooms and heating systems don't need to be duplicated.

"This development, focussing on the arts and drama coupled with the exciting sporting developments to be part of the new Greenfaulds High School, will bring considerable benefits to the communities in and around Cumbernauld,” Cllr Logue added.

Mark Cairns, the Head Teacher of Cumbernauld Academy, also welcomed the plans, and on Tuesday afternoon, he described the plans as a “fantastic opportunity”.

He said: "This is such an exciting development for pupils, staff and the wider community and provides a fantastic opportunity for the new school to develop a strong arts and culture specialism.

"The prospect of having a living and breathing professional theatre company linked to Cumbernauld Academy presents a unique opportunity for both the school community and the wider community."

Cumbernauld Academy was created following the merger of Cumbernauld High School with Abronhill High School. The two high schools will officially merge in August, when the new school year commences. 

Meanwhile, James McKinstry, the council’s Head of Resources said a new Cumbernauld Academy, and conjoined Theatre complex would help to develop “strong links” between the school and community.

Mr McKinstry said: "Cumbernauld Theatre essentially remains the same theatre building as it was in 1972. Some 40 years later there has been no significant change in the building design, spaces or fabric of the buildings to accommodate changing patterns of use, the needs of performers, artists and audience.”

He added: "Given these factors, both North Lanarkshire Council and Cumbernauld Theatre Board are keen to develop a new facility, which will allow larger audiences, new services to the community and strong links with the new Cumbernauld Academy."

Funding for both the new Cumbernauld Academy on Kildrum ring road and a brand new Cumbernauld Theatre facility will be met through North Lanarkshire Council's Schools and Centres 21 budget, with Cumbernauld Theatre’s limited, charitable trust, due to make funding applications to Creative Scotland to assist with the fitting out of the new theatre.

Ed Robson, Artistic Director, explained how everybody involved with the Theatre, and its work are “thrilled” by the proposals.

Mr Robson said: "Everyone associated with Cumbernauld Theatre is truly thrilled with the prospect of working with North Lanarkshire Council and Creative Scotland to fulfil our vision of moving to a modern purpose built facility. Our current building has served us well over many years but the time is right to move on."

After the confirmation that Cumbernauld’s beloved Theatre could be closed and replaced in a number of years, local residents took to social media to either criticise or support the plans. The main concern centred around the future of the building and the popular ‘Cottage Bar’. 

Others agreed that the Theatre was simply no longer fit for purpose, with some comments hailing the plans for the new 400 seat, state-of-the-art facility, citing reasons such as current accessibility and capacity problems.

Responding to the critics of the plans, Allan Fruish, Chair of Cumbernauld Theatre Trust issued a statement earlier today (5th February) in which he said the new facility would be “innovative” and “superb”.

Mr Fruish said: “Cumbernauld Theatre Trust is delighted to be working closely with North Lanarkshire Council on this innovative shared campus development proposal. 

“The Trust has ambitions to develop an exciting new Theatre and Arts Centre for Cumbernauld and North Lanarkshire, incorporating superb facilities for drama, dance, music and the visual arts which will attract the very best touring productions, bringing great experiences for audiences and world-class facilities for classes, workshops and community participation. 

“It is particularly exciting to be working on proposals for an arts centre with young people at its very heart; and once all proposals are finalised, this will truly be an arts centre for the whole community to enjoy,” he added.

Then, shortly after half past two, this afternoon, Cumbernauld Theatre issued another statement, which reiterated the Trust’s excitement; clarifying that the current venue will “remain fully open” whilst works get under way.

The statement read: “While we are extremely excited about the plans for a new theatre building, guaranteeing continued and expanded cultural provision for Cumbernauld for years to come, we of course understand that there will be many questions from our supporters along the way.

“Cumbernauld Theatre will remain fully open in the current building until such points as any new building is ready for us to move into. As such, all classes, groups and performances will be continuing as normal. 

“We, like you, are proud of the rich history of our beloved Theatre and whilst we feel the building itself is no longer fit for purpose, we wish to maintain our unique character and charm in a new building which will better serve all our communities,” the statement added.

The Trust’s statement went on to describe the plans as the “beginning of a long and very exciting journey”, with local residents presented with an e-mail address to which enquiries can be submitted.

“The approval of the shared campus proposal yesterday by North Lanarkshire Council was the beginning of a long and very exciting journey for both Cumbernauld Theatre and Cumbernauld Academy,” the statement said. “We will provide regular updates, and in the meantime if you have any questions please email Kirsty”

Opened in 1961, Cumbernauld Theatre was born after a small group of determined residents persuaded the Cumbernauld Development Corporation to lease them a row of old abandoned farm cottages. When it first opened the Theatre was known as ‘Cumbernauld Cottage Theatre’, becoming a hit with local residents almost immediately, with over 20,000 people attending performances at the Theatre each year nowadays.

Until the proposals become a more detailed plan, it’s “business as usual”, according to Cumbernauld Theatre’s Kirsty Tough; the Theatre spokeswoman added that she was unable to “speculate” on the future of the Theatre building, confirming that the structure is owned by North Lanarkshire Council.

“Cumbernauld Theatre is very much committed to providing a world class cultural centre for the local community and we plan to share as much information as possible as the plans progress,” Ms Tough added.

The Theatre, itself, is a well-respected major arts and entertainment venue, within the community of Scottish professional theatre, with the company appointed as a foundation organisation within Creative Scotland's portfolio of supported organisations, in June 2012; an award which has been issued to other major national level theatres such as the Citizens Theatre and the Traverse Theatre.

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