A right royal boost

Historic beauty: Inside the magnificent Pavilion Theatre in Blackpool's Winter Gardens
Historic beauty: Inside the magnificent Pavilion Theatre in Blackpool's Winter Gardens
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Plans to transform a decaying theatre into an interactive museum could create 80 new jobs and boost Blackpool’s economy by almost £15m a year.

The figures were today revealed by Prince Charles’ conservation charity The Prince’s Regeneration Trust after it was chosen by Blackpool Council to develop the £19m plans to restore the Pavilion Theatre at the Grade two-star listed Winter Gardens.

The Theatres Trust warned in September that urgent action was needed to save the historic theatre, which has a leaking roof.

The new attraction, including the ‘Horseshoe’ space which encloses it, would be known as The Blackpool Museum, showing off the history of the world’s first working-class seaside resort.

Its offer would include artefacts, tours, film, music and performance, and there would be displays from council collections and international exhibitions, including from London’s V&A Museum.

In July, the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £1.25m to develop the project by November 2015, describing it as “truly visionary”.

If lottery bosses like the detailed proposals they will provide £13.6m for construction and repairs, and the rest of the cash will be secured through match-funding, including £2m from the council.

Construction could begin by autumn 2016 if planning permission is granted, with the attraction opening in summer 2018.

Eighty full-time jobs will be created and the trust plans to support the long term unemployed back into jobs and work closely with Blackpool and The Fylde College. Up to 10 apprentices will be taken on.

Ten people have been appointed to work up the business case, including project director Belinda Betts, director of Newcastle Museum in Australia, who is heading to the UK to spearhead the scheme from an office at the Winter Gardens.

The plans will be informed by public consultation next spring or summer, which will involve listening to people’s stories about Blackpool.

Joan Humble, chairman of Blackpool Civic Trust, said: “The museum project is an exciting opportunity for Blackpool because it will both provide a brilliant new attraction and renovate a key part of the Winter Gardens.

“This announcement about The Prince’s Regeneration Trust is welcome because they have so much experience in working with heritage buildings.

“The new jobs will be important and I hope they will go to local people and that there will be training in the special skills needed to work on heritage buildings.”

Susan O’Connor, projects advisor at The Prince’s Regeneration Trust, said the museum would boost the local economy, attracting new visitors who would spend money in hotels, restaurants, pubs and shops.

Challenging

She said museum merchandise would also contribute to an estimated £14.9m annual boost to Blackpool’s economy.

Ms O’Connor said: “All these things will mean more money being spent in local businesses.

“The council has got a really good collection of memorabilia which we can use to create things like mugs and tea-towels in the same way as the London and Glasgow transport museums.”

Ms O’Connor said the project would be “challenging” but added: “There is no predecessor to the museum so we have a completely new opportunity to tell Blackpool’s story.

“There is an established market at the Winter Gardens but I think the museum will attract new visitors by looking at things like Blackpool’s history as a resort and its circuses.”

Claire Smith, president of hoteliers association StayBlackpool, said the museum would attract new visitors to the town, and persuade previous visitors to return.

“A £15m boost to the economy every year is absolutely marvellous,” she said.

“There is definitely a gap in the market for a museum because we’ve got a fascinating story to tell.

“We just need to make sure it is done in a way that is interactive and amusing for all ages and which does not affect our international dance events at the Winter Gardens.”

The trust has almost two decades of experience in the restoration and re-use of important buildings including the UK’s last working Victorian pottery, Middleport Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent.

Built in 1878, the Pavilion Theatre was originally used as a concert room for recitals and lectures.

It has long been closed to the public and repairs are needed to save original features.