Chichester Festival Theatre’s plans to improve

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Public consultation this summer will be central to Chichester Festival Theatre’s plans to conserve and improve its ageing building as it approaches its 50th anniversary next year.

The CFT announces its RENEW programme this week, an initiative aimed at ensuring the building – which is now seriously showing signs of age – remains fit for purpose.

It will announce a number of events at which it will ask its audiences what they believe its priorities should be.

CFT bosses will also consult on a conservation management statement as to what needs to be done.

CFT executive director Alan Finch stressed the main-house was solid and safe, but with the 50th anniversary on the horizon, it was essential to plan ahead to ensure its long-term future.

The consultation will be completely open-ended: “It might come up with £5m worth of work. It might come up with £30m worth of work. We just don’t know. Nothing at all is decided.

“We have doubled the audience over the past five years. There is an awful lot of goodwill and support for the theatre, but as custodians of the theatre for the 50th anniversary we thought it would be remiss not to take the organisation through this process to work out how we can protect and improve a great community theatre.”

The hope is to submit a planning application by the end of the year on the back of consultation with conservation bodies, public, performers and all relevant parties.

The problem facing the CFT is the building was built on the cheap and has been added to cheaply. In many ways, it has not been properly maintained. Current box-office success means it is now operating seriously beyond capacity.

The conservation management statement has identified which elements of the theatre are architecturally significant – the basis from the CFT will now work out the task ahead through the RENEW programme.

The move comes as the CFT enters the next phase in a process which began with a study to look at the future of a building which was only ever intended for summer use.