Happy Birthday Winter Gardens! 140-year-old 'at risk' theatre gets new life as creative hub

The Winter Gardens' historic Pavilion Theatre is to be the new northern base of a global theatre production company.

The Pavilion Theatre
The Pavilion Theatre

In partnership with Winter Gardens' operators Blackpool Entertainment Company (BECL), Selladoor Worldwide have announced their plans to bring new life to the grade II* listed Pavilion.

The announcement today marks the 140th anniversary of the Winter Gardens opening, and the Pavilion was part of the original 1878 building - and a central entertainment space for audiences at the start of the 20th Century.

Despite its place in Blackpool's entertainment history, the theatre has fallen into disrepair and has been listed as 'at risk' by the Theatres Trust in recent years.

The Pavilion Theatre in its glory days

The new partnership will see Selladoor lead the programming in the revived theatre, with newly produced and touring works, while the Winter Gardens will focus on the renovations to restore the theatre back to its former glory.

BECL managing director Michael Williams said he was 'delighted' with the partnership.

"This heralds an exciting new direction, which will offer unparalleled opportunities to the local community while bringing back into year-round use of the Pavilion Theatre," he said.

"In addition, we will be utilising other spaces in the venue for a wide range of exciting and engaging projects over the coming years.

"The partnership is a unique and exciting opportunity to use the arts as a catalyst for positive change and a vehicle to encourage both opportunity and aspiration through a wide range of commercial and community developments."

Selladoor’s Northern Powerhouse aims to make its Pavilion base a focus for entertainment not only for Blackpool, but across the North West - as part of the company's aim to make theatre accessible for all audiences.

Selladoor's executive creative producer David Hutchinson said: "A town as bold as Blackpool is the perfect location for our Northern producing base to make waves in the north of the country.

"Our decision to base a dedicated team in Blackpool will enable us to focus on cultural development and engagement in the town and surrounding areas.

"With a new and stimulating programme of work to feature at the Pavilion Theatre, complimented by a broad selection of Selladoor’s touring productions that regularly perform at the Winter Gardens, we are extremely excited to see a town that is very dear to our hearts, flourish and succeed as its members of public deserve."

The Pavilion will be used for 'event theatre' and 'non-conventional and immersive theatre'. with the aim of helping to 'diversify the artistic programming and cultural experiences available to the residents of Blackpool.'

Selladoor and the Winter Gardens hope the new hub will help increase arts engagement rates among local residents, alongside the restoration works.

Tom Stickland from the Theatres Trust has said: "The Winter Gardens’ Pavilion Theatre has evolved throughout its life to reflect the changing tastes for public entertainment opening as a music hall before becoming a theatre in 1885 and adapted for cinema in the 1930s.

"Restoring performance use to this historic space will unlock one of Blackpool’s jewels and help protect it for the future."

Selladoor Worldwide are one of the UK’s leading regional theatre producers, staging eight productions in 2017 which performed outside of the country’s capital, with nine productions set to do so this year.

They staged last year's Opera House festive show Peter Pan and are producing Wizard Of Oz for this year's Christmas season. They have brought touring productions of Spamalot, Flashdance, Footloose and Avenue Q to the Opera House in recent years, and will present Madagascar and Fame later this season.