Message from Chair of Trustees, Duncan Craig OBE (14.04.23)


Two weeks ago, the doors of Oldham Coliseum’s theatre on Fairbottom Street closed for the last time after an incredible farewell show. Encore celebrated the Coliseum’s extraordinary history, and the building’s closure is a tragedy for the town, the region and the UK theatre scene.


I want to say a massive thank-you to the whole Coliseum team for an amazing show, and for showing such dignity and commitment in such difficult circumstances. A very special thank-you to Chris Lawson, Artistic Director and CEO, whose leadership in the most challenging of times has been a shining beacon in the darkness.




I know many of you have been asking questions about the future of the Coliseum. As the new Chair of the Board of Trustees, I’m committed to being as open as possible – and while I don’t currently have many answers, I’m determined to be honest and transparent about the future of the organisation. This is the first in what I hope will be a regular series of updates from me and my fellow Board members.


The new Board’s initial priority was to try and keep the Fairbottom Street building open, but we are realistic – this is highly unlikely to happen. The long-held dream of a new purpose-built theatre in Oldham may have contributed to the decline of Fairbottom Street, and a visual survey identified long-term issues that would be difficult and enormously costly to rectify. Following the unsuccessful bid made to Arts Council England (ACE), we have had to give notice on the building simply to allow the organisation to remain solvent.


However, with the small amount of available funds, we are ordering an Independent Review into the state of the building to confirm it’s condition – and an Independent Report into the previous governance, which we hope will help us understand how this tragic situation was allowed to happen. I feel strongly that the people of Oldham and Greater Manchester deserve full transparency about exactly how the theatre came to lose its ACE funding and how the building was allowed to degrade to such a degree. We aim to complete these reviews before we return the keys to the Council in June and will publish all findings.


But the future of Oldham Coliseum Theatre cannot wait until then. We may currently be a theatre without a building or a team, but we still desperately want to secure the future of theatre in Oldham and are hoping to play a key part in making it happen.


We have already opened discussions with the Chief Executive, Leader and various Directors of Oldham Council, which have been incredibly honest and positive. We’ll be continuing these discussions in the coming weeks and months, and will also be speaking widely to other people and organisations around Oldham and Greater Manchester – including with you, the theatre’s patrons, fans, friends and family.




I know that a lot of you – a lot of us – are still grieving and mourning for the loss of the old Coliseum – and, for that matter, angry at the previous leadership of the organisation. I also know, like us, that you care deeply about the amazing staff that remain and want to support them through this difficult period.


But having sat in the audience at Encore, then stood in the foyer listening to people talk about their memories of the Coliseum, I am convinced that every single person wanted the same thing that we do – to ensure that Oldham Coliseum Theatre Ltd continues to commission, produce and present great theatre in Oldham. As long as my fellow Board members and I are in place, we won’t stop working until a building-based producing theatre is once again thriving here.


I would like to thank Oldham Council, our local MPs, Arts Council England, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Mayor Andy Burnham for engaging in such positive discussions so far, and to the incredible Greater Manchester venues, artists and creative professionals who have offered us such amazing support in the last few months.


I also want to say a huge thank you to our Oldham Coliseum Theatre staff team and volunteers. We are so proud of them and how they have conducted themselves during this difficult time, with such professionalism and compassion for each other and the organisation. They are a credit to themselves, the arts industry and the town.


We have a long way to go yet – but I hope you join us on this journey.

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