City of Durham Architectural Award 2019

REFURBISHMENT of a niche city theatre has earned a prestigious accolade from a long-established civic amenity society.

Durham University’s Assembly Rooms Theatre, in North Bailey, reopened in October after a year-long restoration.

The city’s former Assembly Rooms, dating from the1700s, were converted into a theatre in the late Victorian era, and it is now home to Durham Student Theatre, plus other performing groups, Grim Up North and the Elysium Theatre Company.

But it had fallen into disrepair, while not proving user-friendly to modern theatre-goers.

The £2.5m refurbishment was completed by PH Partnership Architects and Stage Electrics.

It has seen seating reduced to 175 seats, but with wheelchair access, a small bar and a new lift, while the box office has been redesigned, the ornate ceiling restored and windows replaced.

The project, hailed by the City of Durham Trust as “a superb refurbishment”, was judged “clear winner” of its annual Architectural Award.

Presentation of the award was cancelled in mid-March since when it has remained closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Theatre manager, Kate Barton, said the decision to close in line with Government public gathering restrictions was “heart-breaking”, particularly for theatre groups with scheduled shows cancelled.

But she pledged that the reopening date would be constantly reviewed, in line with ongoing Government advice.

She said the refurbishment, of Durham’s oldest still-operating theatre, as, “an incredible feat.”

“It’s been cleverly designed, removing damp and asbestos, but creating a more functional and accessible lay out.”


A programme of student, civic and professional shows remains in the pipeline, once the Covid-19 crisis is over, with the presentation event now provisionally pencilled in for April 25. 

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