One of Bridgnorth’s most iconic buildings has been granted planning permission for a new front entrance and enhanced changing rooms.
Theatre on the Steps, which was formed in 1964 by the local amateur dramatic society, will now bid for more than £500,000 of funding to make the dream a reality and bring it in line with other venues across the UK.
The organisation has tapped into the knowledge of local architects Johnson Design Partnership (JDP) to help it develop the designs in keeping with Historic England guidance, ensuring any changes are sympathetic with nearby buildings and compliment the current townscape.
This involves the proposed erection of an external glazed porch that will utilise glass and contemporary lead to provide a striking new entrance and visual focal point, with the important benefit of improved disability access by replacing the steps with a ramp.
After discussions with the Conservation Officer, it was also agreed to repurpose the existing front railings to become a feature of the design.
Founder of JDP Vic Johnson, who has performed in three shows held at the venue, commented: “Theatre on the Steps is one of the town’s prized possessions, so it was an exciting challenge to be invited to come up with designs that not only retained its uniqueness, but also made it accessible to all and made it fit-for-purpose in the 21st century.
“The venue’s location in the Bridgnorth Conservation Area added to an extremely challenging application and a lot of technical detail has gone into the design, choice of materials and proposed execution.”
He continued: “We’ve worked on a number of listed building projects that have to meet stringent historical considerations, including Bishop Percy’s House in the town. This gave us the experience and insight to ensure we worked with the relevant organisations from day one, listening to their requirements and building them into a successful application.
“An important step has been achieved, now the attention turns to raising the money/securing the grant we need to turn it into reality by late 2022 and for the work to be completed in 2023.”
Whilst the entrance/reception porch will make most of the headlines, the second part of the project will see the vital transformation of the changing rooms at the rear of the building, which is located halfway up Stoneway Steps running uniquely between Low Town and High Town.
This will mean the small cubicles will be replaced with a dedicated 51sq metre space that is double the size of the current facilities and will include ensuite and showers in the same part of the building.
A lot of the design work will be classed as stealth in the sense that, once completed, there will be very little sign of the changes externally, with increased cladding to the rear, minimal use of windows and a steel structure covered in faded wood to give the aged effect.
Iain Reddihough, Artistic Director at the Theatre on the Steps, added his support: “We knew we had to move with the times, and this meant keeping a lot of our unique features, but also making sure the theatre is accessible to all and has good facilities for performers who grace our stage.
“It was important that we chose an architect that understood the importance of the building to the fabric of Bridgnorth and we certainly got this and more with JDP. The designs reflect what we were looking for and the way they managed relationships with different parties to get the application through was very impressive.
“The entrance will certainly get people talking and will importantly give us more space to showcase the shows that we are hosting – a great advertising tool for us. As for the facilities, we have now created plans that will give us six to eight changing rooms, a major move forward.”
He concluded: “This work will safeguard the future of our theatre for decades to come and will hopefully help us to attract a wider variety of performances.”
Johnson Design Partnership, which employs seven people at its offices on Station Lane in Bridgnorth, offers a complete project management service from feasibility work and planning to detailed design, project monitoring and contract administration.
It boasts a proven track record in ‘grand designs’, commercial and industrial, education, healthcare, retail and landmark infrastructure projects.