Strong support for new multi-use arts centre in historic Worcester city centre buildings

Close up of the Scala building in Angel Street, Worcester

An independent consultation with members of the arts and creative communities in Worcester and beyond has shown strong support for the creation of a new multi-use arts centre in two historic city centre buildings.

Worcester City Council engaged independent expert Candice Pearson to carry out a stakeholder consultation, after plans to create a 500-seat theatre in the Grade II listed Scala and Corn Exchange were halted due to escalating costs.

The exercise has now revealed strong support for the creation of a facility providing a flexible space in the Angel Street buildings for a range of activities for the community, including music, drama, film screenings, comedy, book clubs and workshop space.

A report to the Council's Policy and Resources Committee meeting of 16 October says that several organisations have expressed an interest in being involved in running a new venue, and further discussions are now taking place to develop a more detailed plan.

At the same time, the report says, the design team engaged by the Council are working up new plans with flexible seating in the Scala's main auditorium, to allow it to host theatre, conferences, cinema screenings, live music banquets and more.

The Scala and Corn Exchange project is part of the redevelopment of the northern quarter of the city centre, funded by £17.9 million from the Government's Future High Streets Fund.

David Blake, Worcester City Council Managing Director, said: "I am grateful to everyone who shared their views and experience as part of this consultation. Budgets and timescales remain challenging, but there's clearly a shared ambition to make this project a success for Worcester, with a lasting impact for generations to come.

"We have been keeping the Government up to date on these discussions and they are supportive of the steps we are taking. Worcester is far from being the only city to be facing similar challenges – across the UK, many Future High Streets Fund projects are being impacted by rising costs."

The independent consultation carried out on behalf of the Council saw 100 organisations responding to a survey, 86% of whom said they would like to see the Scala and the Corn Exchange renovated into an arts centre.

There were also three public consultation events, more than 45 individual interviews and over 30 tours of the site. The report to the committee includes the full findings of the consultation.

The committee will be asked to support the continuation of the design work and of the discussions over a future operating model, with the overall aim of having a construction contract in place for the renovation work by the end of the year.

A further report to the committee details progress on the other projects supported by the £17.9 million Future High Streets Fund investment.

These include 15 grants of up to £30,000 each to refurbish properties in the city centre's northern quarter. A total of £428,662 has been awarded so far, supporting the revamping of 19 new residential units and 13 commercial premises, subject to planning permission. This scheme has supported the creation of a new retail space at 7-9 Angel St, provided a new lease of life to 28 The Cross, which is now a deli with customer seating, and more.

Around £4 million is being invested in the on-going revamp of pavements and the surrounding public realm in the area, taking in Angel Place, Trinity Street, St Swithins St, The Cross, The Foregate, Foregate St and Angel St. This work, carried out in partnership with Worcestershire County Council, is expected to be completed in June 2024.

Angel Place will also be revamped to make it more attractive, once plans for the new arts centre are finalised.

The committee will also be asked to agree to putting 8 Angel Street, the former Co-op supermarket, on the market for sale. The Council and the Government have previously approved removing the building from the Future High Streets Fund projects.

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