Restoration of iconic seaside theatre honoured by King
- A group of volunteers working tirelessly to breathe new life into what was one of Britain’s most iconic seaside theatres have been awarded The King’s Award for Voluntary Service
- The Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust is leading a remarkable restoration of the Grade II* listed theatre on the Lancashire coast, which closed during the collapse of British seaside resorts in the 1970s, into one of the North of England’s leading music venues
- University of Sheffield professor is chair of the trust and helped win the biggest investment in the venue in over 100 years
- The award is the highest honour a local voluntary group can receive in the UK and equivalent to an MBE
A group of volunteers who are leading a remarkable restoration of a seaside theatre once known as the Albert Hall of the North, have been honoured by the King this week (14 November 2023).
The Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust - volunteers who are breathing new life into the historic building on the west Lancashire coast - have been awarded The King’s Award for Voluntary Service. This is the highest award a local voluntary group can receive in the UK and is equivalent to an MBE.
Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Professor of Early Film and Popular Entertainment History at the University of Sheffield, is chair of the trust and leading the restoration of the Grade II* listed theatre, which closed during the collapse of British seaside towns in the 1970s, into one of the North of England’s leading music venues.
First opened in 1897, the theatre was one of the largest in the North West of England. With lavish interiors and striking architectural features, it quickly became the heart of the thriving seaside resort and played host to some of the most famous stars of music and variety culture. It helped Morecambe develop into one of the country’s most loved resorts, attracting visitors from all over the UK.
However, the venue closed in the mid-1970s as Morecambe’s economy, like seaside towns across the UK, began to collapse. A group of dedicated volunteers formed the Preservation Trust in 2006 and have since worked tirelessly on cleaning, restoring, and fundraising to try to restore the building to once again be at the heart of the region’s entertainment, culture and economy.
Earlier this year, the trust was awarded a grant of £2.78 million from the Cultural Development Fund. The funding is the largest single investment the venue has received in over a 100 years, and will support both the building’s restoration and help to launch a new work experience initiative to help young creatives from Lancashire in the arts industry.
Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Professor of Early Film and Popular Entertainment History at the University of Sheffield, said: “I am delighted that our volunteer group’s hard work in helping bring new life to Morecambe Winter Gardens has been recognised. The commitment of the volunteers in helping raise vital funds for the regeneration of the venue, assisting with restoration work and helping open the building to the people of Morecambe and visitors to the town has been outstanding.
“In its heyday, Morecambe Winter Gardens was iconic, it was one the best entertainment venues of any British seaside town that people from all over the country would travel to. For many, it was the place to be seen at weekends and over the holidays. I’m excited that this restoration, led by our amazing volunteers, has not only brought the building back into use but is transforming it into a modern day entertainment facility that Morecambe, Lancashire and the North of England needs - running a diverse programme of events but also initiatives to support the careers of people in the region.”
Alongside works on the building, the Preservation Trust is working with partners, including From the Fields - known for the hugely popular Kendal Calling and Blue Dot festivals - and Morecambe and Lancaster arts groups to programme new events and music activities over the next three years.
Crucial to the development of the building is a Young Creatives Initiative in partnership with Lancaster and Morecambe College, which will see a cohort of 75 young creatives from Morecambe and Lancaster given the opportunity to have work experience and paid training from national bodies with local and regional cultural partners.
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