Multi-million-pound revamp of Sheffield theatre takes a step forward

Plans for the multi-million pound refurbishment of Sheffield city centre arts and theatre complex The Montgomery are moving ahead following initial meetings with architects.

By Robert Cumber
Friday, 28th June 2019, 1:46 pm
Updated Friday, 5th July 2019, 7:46 am

An ambitious five-year programme will bring the popular Surrey Street community venue firmly into the 21st century with a complete refurbishment of the front of house, main auditorium and backstage facilities.

A new main frontage will give the venue a much greater presence and identity.

A new affordable recording studio, bar area, improved toilet facilities and public spaces are just some proposals that will enhance the complex and create a more welcoming environment for visitors.

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And the installation of a lift will address the long-standing problem of access, enabling The Montgomery to offer more relaxed performances, dementia friendly workshops and more, making it a theatre and arts centre available to everyone.

Following initial meetings with architects, the venues board of trustees has now developed a scheme of requirements for the refurbishment and begun to discuss the way forward for fundraising.

But before serious work gets under way the recruitment process will begin for a new director.

“We are looking for an inspiring individual to provide strong, dynamic leadership for The Montgomery, working to ensure the organisation meets its charitable objectives and delivers against our strategic vision for the future,” said chair of trustees Joanne Ringrose.

“As well as leading the organisation the successful applicant will develop strategies for delivering The Montgomery’s capital project, fundraising and building relationships within the city.”

The role has most recently been filled by Dawn Reynolds who, in a management restructure, now becomes general manager.

“Dawn has done an amazing job in what have often been very challenging times and we are delighted that she will be moving to the new role of General Manager from September,” said Joanne.

“She will oversee the administration, operation, hire and contracting functions of the organisation and her in-depth knowledge of the building, its history and the running of the business will be invaluable to us as we go forward.”

The 420-seat space has been used by drama companies for generations. The plan is to create a place that is ‘buzzing and completely full every day’.

But funding is needed to pay for the project, which bosses hope will be complete by 2023.

Much of the money would come from national arts bodies and other funders, it is anticipated, but organisations and theatre groups who regularly use the

complex will also be called on to donate.

A feasibility study is to be drawn up and a full year of fundraising will be needed before work can begin – hence the five-year timescale.

The Montgomery Hall building was originally created for the Sheffield Sunday School Union and opened in 1886. Named after hymn writer and poet James Montgomery, one of the union’s founders, it survived both the Blitz and a devastating 1971 fire to become the home of amateur and youth productions, dance classes and more.

The venue – known as ‘The Monty’ – is now owned by the Montgomery Arts and Christian Centre Sheffield Ltd, a non-profit making company.

It describes itself as the only centre for the arts in Sheffield that has a specific focus on programming for young audiences between the ages of five and 16.

Last year Dawn Reynolds said the ‘ambitious’ overhaul was ‘long overdue’.

“What we want is for the community companies to see The Monty as their theatre and their arts centre, somewhere that can be called home and can be built on and developed together,” she said when the revamp was announced.

“I want to see this building buzzing, completely full every day with people from all parts of the Sheffield community. Sheffield needs a great central community facility and that’s what The Monty already is, it’s what makes us unique.”

In 2017 sponsors each offered £65 to reupholster 100 seats.

The venue’s gallery space is used to exhibit works by local community artists and there is also a creative resource library, which includes reminiscence boxes for care homes, day centres and lunch clubs.

Installation of a lift would solve problems with disabled access, enabling the theatre to offer more relaxed performances for people with autism, and dementia-friendly workshops.