The foyer of the Civic Theatre in Chelmsford showing a wooden counter for the kiosk and another for the box office

Chelmsford City Council has voted to extend the scope of its refurbishment of Chelmsford Theatres to ensure a “red-carpet” treatment for audiences when it reopens after its makeover.

Over the summer the theatres’ front-of-house will be given a contemporary overhaul to transform the customer experience at the dated venue.

The foyers, bars and toilets are just some of the areas that will be revamped, making the venue more accessible to more audiences, enabling it to open to the public all day.

A meeting of Full Council finalised the budget for the project on 22 March. The Council agreed to bring forward other refurbishment items that were planned over the next few years, so that the work can all be done at once to be more cost effective and better for theatregoers. The total budget for the project has now been set at just under £2.75 million.

The bar area of the Civic Theatre with the corner of the bar in the foreground and 1980s wallpaper on the far wall. There are fixed booths of seating in the background
The theatres’ bar is just one of the areas being given a makeover

Scheduled improvements brought forward

New carpets for the Civic’s auditorium, an upgrade to the theatres’ sound systems, and new box office technology were part of a package of planned future replacements. They are now being delivered at the same time as this summer’s refurbishment.

Improvements to the building’s exterior and signage will also be done this summer, along with essential works identified through a detailed assessment of the site. These include asbestos removal, data cabling, and the addition of an accessible pram park.

Soaring inflation increasing costs

Runaway inflation across the UK economy, currently at its highest point for 30 years, has also increased the cost of the project since original estimates were drawn up.

When an initial estimate was made in November last year, Cllr Chris Davidson, the Cabinet Member for Fairer Chelmsford, warned that inflation, shortages, and volatility in construction and material costs were likely to drive up expenditure.

However, he argued that investing in the council’s buildings to generate additional council income makes good business sense.

Theatres to be a ‘cultural living room’ for Chelmsford

The works are planned to turn Chelmsford Theatres into a ‘cultural living room’ for the city, open for socialising, learning and entertainment throughout the day.

The whole front-of-house, including the box office and foyers, will be given a stylish redesign, unifying the two theatres for the first time.

The outdated ground floor theatre bar will become a flexible modern bar and small event space for music, stand-up comedy and children’s activities. A café will also be created at the front of the building with wraparound windows and tables outside on the pavement in front of the Cramphorn.

Chelmsford City Council’s Deputy Leader, Cllr Marie Goldman, says these improvements will change the theatres’ relationship with the city:

“Chelmsford Theatres desperately need this funding now, though this isn’t an easy time for anyone to be investing in venues. Although our community is proud to have the Civic and Cramphorn, they’re tired and unused for much of the day. Culture isn’t a luxury – it’s our civic heart. It’s now ten years since Chelmsford became a city and this contribution to our cultural evolution is long overdue. I can’t wait for Chelmsford to have a theatre fit for the next phase of its life as a city.”

Cllr Marie Goldman, Deputy Leader, Chelmsford City Council

Investment welcomed by Arts Council

The works are also intended to ensure that Chelmsford Theatres remain competitive in a tough economic climate. The modernisation will support the theatres’ recovery after the pandemic, bringing in new audiences and encouraging existing customers to return.

Arts Council England say the investment shows the council is committed to nurturing the city’s cultural life, which benefits everyone:

“Local authorities have always been vital funders for the arts, culture and creativity – but even more so now and we welcome their invaluable support. The capital investment in Chelmsford Theatres is a powerful recognition of the incredible value that arts, culture and creativity bring to the city and the communities that live there – one that we fully support.

It will enable the theatre to build on the support provided by the Culture Recovery Fund and to realise ambitious plans that strongly resonate with our own “Let’s Create” strategy.” 

Hannah Lake, Director, East, Arts Council England

Works to start in May

The Arc Group has now been appointed to deliver a fixed-price contract for the refurbishment, following an open and competitive tender process, and the project now enters a detailed design phase. Works to the building are due to start in May, with the theatres closing to customers from June.

We’ll have more information on the refurbishment in the weeks to come, including details of when the theatres will reopen in the autumn. Keep an eye on the Chelmsford Theatres’ social media pages for updates and information about shows scheduled for later this year.


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