Dudley Hippodrome Keys Are Handed To Campaigners

Campaigners were handed the keys to Dudley Hippodrome yesterday, in a ceremony held 78 years to the day after the theatre first opened.

Members of Black Country Hippodrome Limited marked the important moment in a ceremony attended by Councillor Pete Lowe, Leader of Dudley Council. The move marks the start of a program which will see the Castle Street building reopen to the public as a theatre for the first time in half a century.

The group have been busy working with newly appointed architects, who are finalising preparations to refurbish and modernise the building. Initial plans include a large extension on the right side of the building next to Trindle Road - this will house a new entrance, cafe and box office, as well as a first floor bar and restaurant.

However around £5 million needs to be raised by the group to ensure the dream of reopening the Hippodrome can be fulfilled, with group Chairman, Dr Paul Collins, suggesting a figure nearer to £10 million is required to bring the theatre back to its full former glory. He said:

"This is a landmark moment in both the group, and the theatre's, history - and we couldn't be happier. Now the hard work begins with funding applications and feasibility studies to complete before work can properly get underway. 

"The architects we've appointed share our vision to turn this building back into the landmark it once was. The fly tower, seating capacity and other facilities are West End standard and refurbishment won't just be an asset to the region; it'll put us on the map.

"We want to turn this building into a cultural hub for the community. Our aim is to give Dudley a venue which will be functional during the day as well as being able to show large scale touring shows in the evening - and the community are at the heart of that." 

In its heyday, Dudley Hippodrome played host to variety acts including Tommy Cooper, Judy Garland and Laurel and Hardy. However after years of use as a bingo hall, it closed in 2009 and has been derelict ever since. When it was first built, the vast auditorium held 1,750 people, with seating being reduced to just over 1500 in later years. This compares to Birmingham Hippodrome (after its refurbishment) which accommodates 1,935 patrons and could dwarf Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre and Wolverhampton Grand which can seat 1,347 and 1,200 patrons respectively.

The campaign group have been handed a five-year lease which will allow them time to begin refurbishment after the initial clear out of years of cosmetic addition. The venues stage was removed in 1973, shortly after Ladbrokes began using the site as a bingo hall, and would need to be replaced - as well as updates to front of house, seating and changing room facilities. 

However the group are aware of the scale of the task, with Dr Collins adding that:

"Refurbishment will be scaled and the venue will likely come back to life in stages. I think the main relief is the fact for the next five years, the building won't be knocked down!"

It is hoped that the building will re-open and start hosting events by 2020. Council leader Pete Lowe, leader of Dudley Council, said:

“I think it’s the right thing to be doing and there’s some really exciting plans that I’ve had a look at.

“I would love to see the hippodrome come back and for it to become what it once was. We’ve handed the keys over so now they can do whatever they can.”

The authority had been pressing ahead with plans to bulldoze the building, to make way for an open air public exhibition space next to the entrance to Dudley Zoo and the town’s castle. However both Cllr Lowe and Cllr Judy Foster, the councils deputy leader, have always insisted that this wasn't an intention to block the groups efforts - simply a case of ensuring solid plans were in place before any terms were agreed.


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