A leading politician has visited the Morecambe Winter Gardens and encouraged the theatre’s owners to bid again for government cash to aid its restoration.
Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse Minister, was given a tour of the venue accompanied by David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, on Wednesday.
Mr Berry is the first government minister to visit the Winter Gardens since the building closed in 1977. He said the Grade II* listed building “takes your breath away”.
“I think if we are to complete the story of Morecambe as a fantastic place to visit, I think the Winter Gardens has to be part of that,” he said.
Mr Berry was shown around the theatre by Evelyn Archer, chair of the Friends of the Winter Gardens.
Mrs Archer heads the group of volunteers who have worked for more than 30 years to raise funds for the theatre and keep it in the public eye.
The Powerhouse Minister told her to put in a “really good and exciting bid with new ideas” after she told him they needed help to finance a new heating system and an upgrade of the theatre foyer.
He said there was money available from a £40m government ‘coastal communities’ pot and other funding streams but the Winter Gardens would face competition from other places around the UK.
In 2009 the Winter Gardens had a £4m bid for government cash turned down.
This meant they also lost the opportunity to gain extra match funding to pay for reopening the building full-time. Since then they have made gradual improvements to the theatre and now open it up for a regular programme of events.
Mrs Archer said she would now meet with Mr Morris and Lancaster City Council to put together a renewed bid, which has to go in by January 2018.
Mr Morris said: “I was delighted that the Minister was able to accept my invitation to visit Morecambe and that he was able to see the huge potential in the Winter Gardens. Morecambe is on the up and I am continually ensuring that there are more exciting times ahead.”
The idea behind the 'Northern Powerhouse' is to boost the economy of Northern England by investing in skills, innovation, transport and culture, as well as devolving significant powers and budgets to directly elected mayors to ensure decisions in the North are made by the North.