Stage plan at mining museum to be a first

Councillor Jim Bryant pictured in one of the Newtongrange Mining Museum outbuildings that is going to be converted into a theatre. Picture: Greg Macvean
Councillor Jim Bryant pictured in one of the Newtongrange Mining Museum outbuildings that is going to be converted into a theatre. Picture: Greg Macvean
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IT was Scotland’s first ever “super-pit” until 1981, when coal production at the Lady Victoria colliery in Newtongrange came to an end.

But now there are hopes of starting a different kind of production, with a proposal to create a new theatre space in empty workshops on the site.

Midlothian Council is drawing up plans for a £6.5 million centre at the award-winning mining museum created on the site – which would be the first theatre in the county for 100 years.

The proposed new Mid­lothian Arts Centre would provide a venue for existing arts groups in the area, as well as encouraging new talent – and even drawing some shows from Edinburgh’s Festival Fringe.

The proposed site of the ­theatre is just two minutes’ walk from the new Newtongrange station, which will be 15 minutes from Waverley once the new Borders rail line opens to the public in September.

Midlothian planning convener Councillor Jim Bryant said: “We’re really keen on getting something like this and the site at the mining museum is ideal.”

He said the workshops offered a massive space, easy to reach, and the theatre would bring jobs and a much-needed economic boost to the area.

Cllr Bryant said: “We’ve got the railway coming in, we’ll be looking for Fringe Festival shows to come out, which will stimulate tourism.

“And my hope would be that eventually we have a Midlothian theatre group based at this theatre and something on every week. It would take a while to build up to that, but that would be my fervent hope.”

The council is applying for cash from the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grants Fund, which has an annual budget of £25m to back projects that will bring major improvements to deprived areas.

And it hopes there could also be money available from the City Deal, which is expected to see UK and Scottish Government investment in Edinburgh and the surrounding area.

The theatre would be run by an arm’s-length Midlothian Arts Trust involving the council, National Mining Museum Scotland Trust and other local arts organisations.

The outline business case for the project says: “There is widespread support in the Midlothian community for an arts centre that would provide a performance space for theatre and dance. Midlothian is the only local authority in Scotland which does not have a dedicated arts or performance facility.”

The council says there are many artists in Midlothian but few facilities.

Cllr Bryant said he was not aware of there ever being a ­theatre in Midlothian. “I’m sure I read of shows being put on at the Corn Exchange in Dalkeith, but that was probably about 100 years ago.”

The new centre would include a performance space, dressing rooms, exhibition space, conference facilities, studio/workshop space, cinema projection facilities and a lounge/restaurant/cafe area to be run by the mining museum cafe.

Operating costs estimated at £500,000 a year would be met by customer income, grant support and membership ­subscriptions, with no need for ongoing cash support from the council.

A previous proposal for a similar project fell through when Creative Scotland said it lacked “national strategic significance”.

But Cllr Bryant said: “We’re quite optimistic this time.”

He said the theatre and the museum could become a new cultural quarter. The museum is one of the finest surviving examples of a Victorian colliery in Europe and won the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions “Best Visitor Experience” award in 2009 and 2013.