Lowestoft theatre’s major expansion plan

AMBITIOUS proposals were unveiled this week for a major expansion of Lowestoft's biggest theatre – with an appeal to help it raise �100,000 to seize a 'fantastic opportunity'.

The Marina Theatre wants to create a new bar, catering area and box office by taking over the former Zenith call centre next door to the Edwardian building and joining them together.

The plans are already progressing well as the Marina Theatre Trust has secured the lease of the vacant neighbouring building. And if planning permission is granted to link the two sites, it will treble the theatre's space and will also provide office accommodation and a new loading area for the stage.

To help fund the work, and improve what the theatre can offer its customers, people in Lowestoft and further afield are being asked to help raise the �100,000 needed to make sure the plans are a success.

Although the full details of The Next Stage appeal are being finalised, people and businesses will be able to support it by donating money to have a seat named in the Marina and sponsorship opportunities are also being offered.

The launch of the appeal news is yet another boost for the Marina which has seen a major change in its fortunes over the past 18 months, after fears were expressed over its future as a live entertainment venue.

Responsibility for the day-to-day running of the theatre passed from Waveney District Council to the trust in December last year and it is currently undergoing of a �250,000 facelift which will see its 750-seater main auditorium refurbished, with technical improvements made and a 3D cinema system installed.

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In a joint statement, the trust's chairman Hazel Clover and its chief executive Martin Halliday said: 'We are delighted to announce that the trust has secured the premises adjacent to the theatre which will more than treble the ground floor space available and provide an exciting new quality catering offer for our patrons.

'Improvements are also planned to include access for lorries carrying technical equipment, new office accommodation and a refurbished and relocated box office.

'Opening the new facilities will improve the customer experience and add sustainability to the theatre operation. It is our wish to join the two premises together as soon as possible therefore we are announcing our Next Stage Appeal and hope both the public and local business will be able to assist.'

The busy scenes of workmen carrying out the refurbishment trust members organising the appeal are in stark contrast to 2009 when the Marina's future looked grim and managers had to slash the numbers on show on offer.

A year later, Waveney council considered re-advertising the venue in a way that could have seen it lose its status as a full-time theatre – leading to determined campaign to safeguard its status as a venue for live entertainment.

That led to the setting up of the trust which is made up of industry professionals, business people, members of the theatre's friends group, community leaders, and the Marina's management team.

However, the focus is now firmly on the Marina's promising future, which should be boosted by the Next Stage appeal, which hopes to see the project finished by the autumn. The appeal is being led by Marina trustee and founder of Pleasurewood Hills, Joe Larter, who also oversaw the lease negotiations for the former Zenith call centre.

Mr Larter said: 'Obtaining the new building is a fantastic opportunity, however to do this properly we need to raise about �100,000 and there are various ways of doing this which we are currently investigating.

'With good public support we can raise at least half of this money soon and we could certainly complete the initial link and be up and running this autumn.'

In yet another boost to the Marina, Zenith has entered into a partnership with the theatre, which has seen the company becoming the main sponsor of this year's pantomime, Aladdin.

Natalie Cook, Zenith marketing director, said: 'The Marina Theatre is a great example of how Zenith can give something back to the local community. We are proud of our association and look forward to a successful partnership for the future.'

The refurbishment project, which is the Marina's first major investment for 25 years, is set to be completed in time for a performance of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on September 14.

? For details on the Next Stage appeal call 01502 533202 or email info@marinatheatre.co.uk

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