Theatres Trust, the national advisory public body for theatres, works to ensure theatres meet the needs of their communities, and improving access is a key part of this. Seven projects have been awarded funding from the Theatre Improvement Scheme Improving Accessibility grants, in partnership with the Wolfson Foundation.

From installing leading assistive listening and captioning technologies, to offering practical solutions to the challenges historic theatres face providing level access across all floors, the projects will help more audiences enjoy live performance.

Thanks to vital Theatres Trust funding HOME in Manchester, working in partnership with the Royal Exchange Theatre, The Lowry, Z-Arts, Contact, Oldham Coliseum and Bolton Octagon, will purchase and share captioning equipment which will provide deaf and deafened audiences across Greater Manchester the opportunity to see more captioned productions and performances in a greater variety of theatre styles, and access to see shows at theatres that haven’t previously offered them.

Audience members at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough and Gulbenkian in Canterbury will have the latest leading assistive listening systems installed that will allow customisation as well as audio description of performances.

Wheelchair users, ambulant visitors, and those with pushchairs will soon have independent access to Pitlochry Festival Theatre, whose heavy front door will be fitted with an automatic opening device. 

For the first time in its 200-year history the Grade II* listed Old Vic in London will provide wheelchairs users direct access to the box office. Similarly the Oxford Playhouse, also Grade II*, will provide wheelchair users full access to the ground floor box office ticket desk and hire space for meetings and functions, thanks to funding from the Theatres Trust. Meanwhile disabled audience members at Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre and Opera House, one of the few Grade I listed theatres in the country, will have better access to front of house, toilet and Grand Circle facilities because of internal reconfiguration..

Tom Stickland, Theatres Trust Theatres Adviser said: “Everyone should be able to enjoy the full experience a trip to the theatre offers, regardless of their access requirements. With this funding, in partnership with the Wolfson Foundation, we are able to support seven great projects and 13 theatres around the country, who, by working with their audiences, have found meaningful solutions that allow better access – and that show other theatres how they too can better cater for their audiences’ needs and make theatre going more accessible.”

Alan Ayckbourn Theatres Trust Ambassador, playwright and theatre director said: “For me it took a major stroke in 2006 to make me aware of the appalling lack of provision for people with disabilities in many of our public buildings. Naturally, in my case this applied to most theatre buildings. Since then, much progress has been made. The recent initiative by the Theatres Trust with its Improving Accessibility scheme will enable seven theatres including (naturally closest to my heart!) Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre to do exactly that. I do hope other theatres will follow suit, so that soon talk of improving accessibility is a thing of the past – I look forward to that day.”

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation said “Wolfson has a strong commitment to supporting people with disabilities, and removing barriers to their participation in all elements of society. We also have a long term commitment to the performing arts, including through our fruitful partnership with the Theatres Trust. I am delighted that this year’s funding partnership brings these two elements together, and we are enormously grateful to the Theatres Trust for its expertise in administering this programme so adroitly.”

Theatres Trust supports theatres who are looking to make their audiences more comfortable and the performances accessible, and is happy to provide advice and guidance on this. We also run further small grants schemes awarding project funding up to £5,000, these too can receive applications from theatres looking to improve their accessibility.

Further details on the scheme can be found: 

Theatres Trust is the national advisory public body for theatres. We believe that current and future generations should have access to good quality theatre buildings where they can be inspired by, and enjoy, live performance. We champion the future of live performance by protecting and supporting excellent theatre buildings which meet the needs of their communities.We do this by providing advice on the design, planning, development and sustainability of theatres, campaigning on behalf of theatres old and new and offering financial assistance through grants.

Wolfson Foundation is an independent charity that aims to improve the civic health of society by supporting excellence in the fields of science, health, education and the arts and humanities. Founded in 1955, it has awarded over £900 million (£1.9 billion in real terms) to some 11,000 projects across the UK, all on the basis of expert peer review. The Foundation’s existing funding programme for the performing arts aims to support and promote excellence in the sector. Wolfson Foundation has long been providing capital funding to the cultural sector, supporting museums and galleries, historic sites, educational institutions and performing arts organisations. Since the beginning of the 2017 Theatres Trust has been working with the Foundation to develop a scheme focusing on smaller, regional theatres, complementing its existing funding programme and building on the knowledge and expertise of Theatres Trust. Our partnership continues with the Theatre Improvement Scheme.
More about the Theatre Improvement Scheme grant recipients
HOME, Manchester | £20,000  
HOME is Manchester’s centre for international contemporary art, theatre and film, which opened in 2015. HOME will lead a consortium of major venues and producing companies in Manchester, including Bolton Octagon, Contact Theatre, Oldham Coliseum, Royal Exchange, The Lowry and Z Arts, to purchase equipment for captioning performances which will be shared between the venues. The Theatre Improvement Scheme Improving Accessibility grant will unlock the exciting and innovative programme across the consortium for deaf or deafened audiences who couldn’t previously access these performances. This project is in receipt of the Theatres Trust’s 100th grant awarded via its Theatres Protection Fund.

The Old Vic, London | £20,000
The Old Vic in London, a remarkable Georgian theatre which has a global reputation, will make the box office area accessible to wheelchair users for the first time in their 200-year history thanks to the Theatre Improvement Scheme Improving Accessibility grant. This is a good example of a Grade II* listed theatre making necessary changes to its building to improve the audience experience.

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough | £16,500 
The Grade II listed Stephen Joseph Theatre is a producing theatre with a recently renewed focus on new writing. Thanks to the Theatre Improvement Scheme Improving Accessibility grant the theatre will replace the current hearing loop system, which has failed, with an industry-leading assistive listening system that allows customisation for audience members as well as the ability for audio description. This will complement recent front of house access works, making the theatre’s productions even more accessible.

Oxford Playhouse | £13,454  
The Grade II* Oxford Playhouse is a regional producing theatre with a strong reputation which opened in 1938 as a repertory theatre for professional and student productions. The Theatre Improvement Scheme Improving Accessibility grant will make the theatre’s box office and function space accessible to wheelchair users through the manufacture of a new desk, the widening of doors and installing an access ramp. This will complement recent auditorium access works, creating a front of house experience to match.

Tyne Theatre and Opera House, Newcastle | £12,695
Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre and Opera House is one of the few Grade I listed theatres in the country, a Victorian gem, owned and operated by the Preservation Trust, and is an important asset for the community. Thanks to the Theatre Improvement Scheme Improving Accessibility grant they will carry out a small package of works to improve accessibility, including a lowered box office, refurbishment of the stalls’ accessible toilet, and works to provide access to additional existing toilets and the Grand Circle. This will improve disabled audience members experience of the theatre and will also support the theatre’s viability.

Gulbenkian Theatre and Cinema, Canterbury | £11,239
The Gulbenkian Theatre and Cinema in Canterbury is an arts centre based on the campus of the University of Kent and a recognised leader in work with children and young people. The Theatre Improvement Scheme Improving Accessibility grant will allow them to replace the current hearing system with the latest leading assistive listening device, that allows customisation for audience members as well as the ability for audio description, and the project will be used as a case study about the barriers to engagement in the arts.

Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Scotland | £7,624
Pitlochry Festival Theatre opened in 1951, moving to its current purpose built building in 1981. It operates a unique daily repertoire which means visitors each summer can see six different plays or musicals in as many days. You have to travel to Canada to find its nearest equivalent! As well as being Scotland’s premier producer of musical theatre, there are festivals, concerts and events which attract over 100,000 visitors per year, all year round. Pitlochry theatre will fit an automatic door opening device to the heavy front doors, thanks to the Theatre Improvement Scheme Improving Accessibility grant, which will allow wheelchair users, ambulant visitors, and those with pushchairs independent access to the theatre.