Trust raises curtain on plans to revive neglected Leith Theatre

The 1500-capacity Leith Theatre
The 1500-capacity Leith Theatre
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Fresh plans for a multi-million-pound revamp of a neglected former theatre on Edinburgh’s waterfront have been announced.

Outline plans to lease the Leith Theatre and Thomas Morton Hall complex in Ferry Road to the Leith Theatre Trust (LTT) will be considered by the city council’s culture and leisure committee next week.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones

If successful, the LTT can then set about raising the £5.9 million required to transform the 1500-capacity theatre, which has hosted the Kinks and the Rolling Stones in the past, into a cultural hub.

LTT chair Philip Neaves said: “We are delighted to see this proposal being put before the culture and leisure committee. This represents significant progress for us.

“The security offered to us by this lease will allow us to raise substantial grant funding to start to restore the building and maximise the potential for its use as an arts, community and education venue.

“We could never get the grant funding required without demonstrating that we have security on the premises in the form of a lease.

“Phase One will see us having to raise £1m of funding, which will allow us to open the venue. Then £3m will be needed to move us to Phase Two and full refurbishment. In total, we expect the whole project to cost £5.9m.

“Several local organisations have expressed interest in taking up residence, such as the Leith School of Art and Dancebase.”

Under the proposals developed by the LTT, the council will be asked to consider leasing the complex for an initial five years, which would allow the trust to develop capital re-development plans and undertake the required fundraising.

The vision for the facility is to create a place where people of different ages and backgrounds can enjoy a range of cultural experiences and events.

In its proposal document the LTT explains its aspiration of creating “a mixed-use community-based social enterprise with an emphasis on visual and performance arts in particular”.

Provided terms and conditions are successfully concluded, a lease to the LTT could start early next year.

Councillor Deidre Brock, culture and leisure convener, said: “Breathing new life into Leith Theatre has long been a shared ambition for both the community and the council.

“These proposals developed by the LTT are the biggest step forward for the theatre in many years and would restore the complex to community and arts use.”

The plans have also received backing from heritage body the Cockburn Association.

Assistant director Euan Leitch said: “We’d be very supportive of this.

“Leith Theatre has fallen into disuse and to have it restored and to once again be a benefit to the local community, ticks a lot of boxes.

“It’s always good to have old buildings restored but it’s even better to have a use for them.”

A cast of thousands down the years

• The theatre, originally the port’s town hall, was gifted to the people of Leith by Edinburgh following the Act of Parliament which controversially amalgamated the two in October 1920.

• During the Second World War the building suffered bomb damage and only reopened in 1961. It was then used for cultural events, but closed in 1988.

• In its heyday the theatre attracted community groups and superstars alike. The local Boys’ Brigade, 50s heart-throb Frankie Vaughan and 70s rocker Rod Stewart have all performed. The late Queen Mother visited and former Prime Ministers Edward Heath and Jim Callaghan have also delivered speeches there.