If the brown scar on Taunton’s face at Firepuddle is destined to remain for a few years yet, at least there is some positive news on the Brewhouse. This morning Taunton Deane Borough Council (TDBC) and Taunton Theatre Association (TTA) announced the appointment of architects to redevelop The Brewhouse Theatre & Arts Centre on the Coal Orchard site.
Announced during a visit to the site by the Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC, the newly appointed Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Is it a reflection of the times we live in that the most appropriate person the government could find to put in charge of Culture, Media and Sport is a barrister?
TDBC own the arts centre and plans to expand and revitalise the 70s building into a flagship, multi-purpose arts venue are long overdue and should generally be a major step forward in revitalising the whole town cente. Taunton has to date really failed to capitalise on what could be a scenic and attractive waterfront. This development has the capacity to deliver something a bit more special.
The architects appointed MICA, are London based working from offices in Camden Town. Whilst it is a pity that no West Country firm could be found, they do at least have extensive experience of arts projects albiet nearly all their flagship projects have been in London (Southbank Masterplan, Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, Fairfield Halls restoration, National Maritime Museum). The company is still young, incorporated in 2016 and trades heavily on the reputation of directors Stuart Cade and Gavin Miller.
The intention is that the improved venue will include an enlarged main auditorium and flexible studio theatre to enable a greater programme of live performances, with improved acoustics and better facilities for national touring productions.
The revitalised arts centre will wrap around parts of the existing building, and the adjoining (and listed) 18th century house which used to host the Theatre café will be preserved in the design. The redesigned space should provide a range of new spaces including performing and visual art studios, cinema, cafe and gallery while making the most of the river frontage and creating the potential for pop-up performances and events.
TTA have started talks with several service providers and arts organisations who might want to take up residency in the new facilities. If they can bring more people in it will give a fighting chance of creating a thriving cultural hub in the heart of Taunton.
The capital cost for the project is fixed at £12million and the project is planned to be delivered by autumn 2022. So that only leaves the critical question, who is going to pay for it? In response to our question a spokesperson for TDBC told us “TDBC are funding the initial work and architects plans from New Homes Bonus funds which it has allocated for regeneration projects. When the plans are drawn up and there is a clear proposal the Council and TTA will be able to look towards securing a funding package from a variety of sources.” We’ll be sure to ask what those sources are in due course. Taunton does not need another Firepool on its hands. One is surely enough.