Budget £10 million boost for Octagon plans

THERE was a £10 million boost for South Somerset District Council’s plans for the Octagon Theatre in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget statement.

The investment will support the development of a regional cultural infrastructure project, helping to fund the refurbishment and development of the Octagon and transform it into a flagship venue for arts and entertainment for the district.

Helping to boost the local economy as well as the physical, social and cultural regeneration of South Somerset, the Octagon Theatre project will cost up to £23.01 million and the £10 million grant confirmed goes a long way to help reach that target.

Members of South Somerset District Council’s executive committee agreed on 4th March to recommend to full council to approve the underwriting of the total costs of the theatre redevelopment project. The theatre management will make further fundraising and grant applications towards the remainder of the capital sum.

The project will include a fly tower and a new circle to take the seating capacity from 622 to 900. This will mean the venue will become accessible to larger touring productions of plays and musicals. The work would also see the venue become fully accessible throughout, and add two additional boutique spaces which could potentially be a cinema/studio and additional cinema. There would also be purpose built studios created with an improved community Café Hub and separate restaurants areas.

Arts and entertainments manager Adam Burgan says: “We were absolutely thrilled to see the £10 million funding confirmed in the Chancellor’s budget. With this money, plus the recommendation from the district executive to move the decision to full council, we are hopeful that will we get over the final hurdle and start to make our final plans that we can share with the public for their views on the redevelopment of the Octagon Theatre.”

The Octagon has been entertaining audiences since 1974 and attracts visitors from a wide area with a diverse range of artists and events, including big name comedians, classical music and opera, rock and folk music, variety, plays, ballet, and the pantomime.

The theatre is also home to many local community groups where local talent is regularly celebrated. Last year 125,000 people bought a ticket for an event at the theatre while thousands more took part in one of the weekly classes as part of the Octagon Academy participatory programme.

Arts Council South West director Phil Gibby said: “Arts Council are absolutely delighted to welcome this new government investment in the Octagon Theatre. We look forward to working more closely with the Octagon and South Somerset council on this major capital development that will transform this regional theatre’s space, meaning more people in Somerset will have the opportunity to experience the life enriching benefits that culture brings to individuals and communities.“