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Little Theatre reaches first target in expansion plans

Published on Wednesday, July 4, 2018

A PROJECT to extend the Leicester theatre at which a young Richard Attenborough made his stage debut has reached its first crowdfunding target.

Leicester Drama Society, which owns The Little Theatre, launched a bid earlier this year to raise the funds needed to transform and extend the 1920s building in Dover Street.

The society’s £3million Centenary Project scheme would create much-needed new studio, technical and rehearsal facilities at the site, but is dependent on the theatre being able to raise the funds.

This week the project reached its first milestone, by raising the £18,000 needed to cover the costs of planning, site surveys and engineering reports.

Since March 2018, a huge number of Little Theatre audience members, supporters and friends of the theatre have pledged their backing, and finances, to the scheme.

The appeal is being backed by the City Mayor Peter Soulsby’s community crowdfunding initiative CrowdFundLeicester, which was launched last year to help boost community-backed ideas and get them off the ground.

It works by people pledging donations through an online platform called Spacehive into the CrowdFundLeicester scheme.

In addition to donations made through the CrowdFundLeicester, over £7,000 in cash and cheques has also been donated to the appeal, along with about £2,000 in Gift Aid contributions.

Leicester City Council has also given a helping hand to the appeal by offering to transfer ownership of the plot next to the theatre – the site of the former Anchor Centre – to Leicester Drama Society, subject to the society securing planning permission and funding to build its extension.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “I’m delighted that The Little Theatre’s crowdfunding appeal has attracted so much support, and I look forward to them progressing with their proposals for the site.

“The Little Theatre has been a much-loved and vital part of cultural life in the city for many years, and I hope this appeal enables them to move forward on making these long-standing plans into reality.

“The Anchor Centre next door has closed, and the services it offered have been transferred to newer, better-equipped premises at No 5 Hill Street.

“Therefore we have agreed to give that land to Leicester Drama Society, subject to them showing us they have the ability to secure planning permission and funding for this significant development.”

The late Lord Attenborough, who made his debut at the Little Theatre in a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 1937, was also a patron and honorary life president of Leicester Drama Society.

More than 30,000 visitors a year use theatre’s 350-seat auditorium, and it won the award for ‘Best Venue Over 200 People’ at the Leicester Comedy Festival in 2012, 2016 and 2017.

Jenny Harding, Development Programme Director for Leicester Drama Society, added: “We are delighted by the success of the Centenary Challenge Project on Spacehive.  

“The love shown for the Little Theatre by our backers on Spacehive and the hundreds of audience members and supporters who have contributed to our bucket collections at the Little Theatre is truly heart-warming. Thank you all so much!  

“We also wish to thank Sir Peter and his staff for this wonderful opportunity and their support. 

This is a major project  – and this is the first, very successful step on the way. We are now busy working on the details for the project and finalising the plans for planning applications.”

The proposed extension would include a five-storey building containing a new ground-floor studio theatre, a new show wardrobe department and a costume hire facility, along with additional rehearsal spaces.

Subject to the funding and planning consent, construction could be underway by late 2020 and the building in use by summer 2022.