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City council to help Little Theatre to expand

Published on Monday, March 26, 2018

A PROJECT to extend the Leicester theatre at which a young Richard Attenborough made his stage debut is being given a helping hand from Leicester City Council.


Leicester Drama Society, which owns The Little Theatre, in Dover Street, wants to transform and extend the 1920s building to include much-needed new studio, technical and rehearsal facilities as part of its Centenary Project.


The estimated £3million scheme, however, relies on the theatre being able to raise the funds needed so that it can expand into the site next door, currently housing the Anchor Centre – a wet centre and alcohol treatment hub.


Now, with the Anchor Centre being replaced by a newly-equipped building in Hill Street, off Humberstone Gate, Leicester City Council has offered to transfer ownership of the site to Leicester Drama Society, subject to the society securing planning permission and funding to build its extension.


The Leicester Drama Society has now launched its Centenary Challenge crowdfunding appeal, initially to raise the estimated £18,000 needed to cover the costs of planning, site surveys and engineering reports.


The society has already secured about £10,000 including ‘in kind’ donations of time and expertise to get the process underway.


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


The theatre’s members and board of trustees officially launched their Centenary Challenge project at their annual general meeting on Sunday 25 March.


Peter Soulsby said: “The Little Theatre is an important part of cultural life in the city. It is a real gem with a long history, and has had long-standing plans to expand and improve its facilities to meet modern requirements.


“However, these plans have been dependant on the Anchor Centre site immediately next door becoming vacant.


“Now that the Anchor Centre’s services are moving elsewhere, it opens the way for the Leicester Drama Society to move forward in its exciting proposals for the theatre.


“Of course they will need to show us they have the ability to secure planning permission and funding for this significant development, before we would agree to transfer ownership of the land to them.


“The result would make good use of the vacant Anchor Centre site, as well as transforming the Little Theatre and benefitting immensely the many people and communities which make use of it.”


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.


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.


The Anchor Centre building itself is in poor condition and not considered suitable for conversion to any alternative use.  It is likely to be demolished in due course, at an expected cost of £125,000.


Chair of the board of trustees at Leicester Drama Society, Jenny Harding, added: “This is a wonderful opportunity for Leicester Drama Society – for many years we have hoped that one day we would be able to extend next door into the Anchor Centre site. 


“This opportunity is even more exciting as it coincides with our centenary in 2022. Having these wonderful new facilities would be a great way to start our next 100 years!


“We know that raising the necessary funds will be a major challenge, but the prize at the end is definitely worth every effort and I am sure that our members and supporters will be able to meet this challenge.


“We are very grateful to Peter Soulsby and Leicester City Council for giving us this opportunity.  A great many people from Leicester and Leicestershire will benefit in consequence.”


To support the Centenary Challenge project through CrowdFundLeicester, visit