The areas around the Winter Gardens and Grand Theatre are key public spaces within Blackpool Town Centre and have received some investment over the past decade. However, despite investment the built environment is not one that engenders a sense of place, or belonging in the local community because it lacks animation.
In 2009 the Grand Theatre Trust purchased a three storey vacant property next to the theatre at 43-45 Church Street which is currently rented out to provide income for the trust. In 2013 the theatre also leased the upper floors of 37-41 Church Street allowing a major development to improve both the facilities and the access to all levels of the venue. This project improved accessibility within the staff areas of the building and enables the theatre to continue to provide a wide and varied programme of products appealing to all ages.
In April 2019 The Grand Theatre obtained planning permission for a change of use of the four existing retail units adjacent to the Grand Theatre, across basement and ground floor, to a bar and bistro and gallery alongside associated external alterations. The theatre has struggled to let the retail units, exacerbating retail vacancies locally, and it is considered that the conversion of these units would represent a more financially viable use of the premises, securing the future of the theatre as a living heritage venue.
The HAZ proposal is to construct a platform ramp (at pavement level towards its eastern end) rising towards the west with the fall of the land, that will allow a consistent and accessible floor level through the units on Church Street. This in turn allows better permeability between the units and the theatre itself, offsetting significant challenges with audience accessibility and flow.
Externally, an ornamental canopy is proposed across the front of the refurbished units and over the ramp platform matching the existing canopy around the theatre entrance. There will be space for flexible outdoor seating along the length of the ramp/platform with potential for ad-hoc use as a raised performance area towards the western end. The project will create an accessible space for transfer of cultural events out into the public realm as well as for improved access into the theatre through the Church street unit/s to draw the public in and increase footfall and cultural participation.
The proposals will build on the work completed as part of the THI between 2006 and 2009 in St John’s Square and more recent work which is restoring traditional shopfronts in nearby Topping Street, Edward Street and Deansgate. This work will also compliment the works outlined in our Future High Streets bid which focus on adjacent sites on the northern side of Church Street and historic assets on Abingdon and Bank Hey Street.
To the front of the Winter Gardens the project will seek to mirror the approach at the Grand Theatre in restoring original retail frontages and entrances to create greater permeability and improved access, but will differ through the potential for offering pop-up units for retail, restaurant and café offers to support local creative communities.
These innovative developments will help to conserve and enhance these key heritage assets within the town centre and introduce new and innovative development which supports the Blackpool Town Centre strategy in delivering a strengthened cultural, leisure and business destination for residents and visitors.