£7 million makeover to secure future of Leith Theatre

A NEGLECTED theatre where AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Slade, Kraftwerk and Mott the Hoople once played will be reborn as a year-round live music venue for Edinburgh under plans for a £7 million makeover to secure its long-term future.
Hidden Orchestra performing at Leith Theatre. Picture: Chris ScottHidden Orchestra performing at Leith Theatre. Picture: Chris Scott
Hidden Orchestra performing at Leith Theatre. Picture: Chris Scott

Leith Theatre is being lined up to reopen for regular events within months under a vision aimed at transforming it into one of Scotland’s leading indoor concert halls.

Work is already underway on the transformation of the venue which dates back to 1933, survived a bomb blast in the Second World War and was closed 30 years ago due to its declining condition.

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The Heritage Lottery Fund will be asked to help bankroll the rebirth of the venue after the Scottish Government pledged £190,000 to improve the condition of the building in time for its return to the Edinburgh International Festival line-up in August.

The city council has also ringfenced £1 million for the refurbishment, which is being planned nearly 15 years after the building was nearly sold off to help pay for a revamp of the King’s Theatre.

Those plans were only dropped when campaigners produced evidence that the building of Leith Theatre had been a gift to the area after its controversial amalgamation into Edinburgh in 1920. It reopened temporarily last May for the Hidden Door Festival, an event which will return there next month.

New lighting, power and backstage facilities are being installed in the building over the next few months as part of the phased refurbishment, which is expected to take several years to complete.

It is hoped at least one major event will be staged in the theatre between now and the end of the year, with regular opening pencilled in for early next year once further work is done on the building, which does not have its own PA and lighting system for concerts at the moment. It will be run under the same management as the neighbouring Thomas Morton Hall, a popular venue for weddings and functions.

A spokeswoman for the Leith Theatre Trust said: “We have appointed a design team to carry out a feasibility study for the complex. It will identify the costs for a short-term package of capital improvement works to bring the main auditorium back into regular use as a licensed venue for live music, performance and events, and for the long term re-purposing of the entire complex to a multi-space arts and community venue.

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“We anticipate that the contribution from the council will take us a long way to delivering our short-term aim of making the main auditorium operational and can pave the way for capital fundraising to support the long term refurbishment. The confidence the council has shown in our ambition is important to others engaging with our future plans.”

Jack Hunter, chair of the trust, said: “We’ve had a lot of interest from promoters recently. They all underline the fact that Edinburgh doesn’t have a medium-sized like this. We want to take the next year to gain experience from major events to keep the profile of Leith Theatre up. We need to refurbish the building to modern standards and comforts, but the key thing will be phasing the work as we don’t want to see the building closed down for any period of time again.”

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Frank Ross, Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, who visited the venue last week, said: “Our £1 million investment will help the venue to secure further investment which we hope will lead to a full refurbishment and reopening.”

“Originally, the theatre was built as a gift from the people of Edinburgh to the people of Leith. While it is incredible to think the two districts were so separate, I hope its use during the Edinburgh International Festival this summer will in some way bring that gift full circle.”