Plans revealed for new Dorchester arts centre

Design plans for a new arts centre to be built in Brewery Square, Dorchester have been revealed.

Backing for the plans have come from Dorchester Town CouncilWest Dorset District Council and the Duchy of Cornwall.

Known as The Dorchester Maltings, the theatre and arts centre would bring new jobs and an annual £4.6m boost to the local economy, as well as providing a top-class arts, leisure and community facility.

A public meeting at Dorchester Corn Exchange at 6pm on Wednesday 15 February will give the public, local businesses and community groups a chance to hear all about the new plan.

External sketch view of proposed Dorchester Maltings arts centre

Over the past few months Dorchester Arts and the Maltings Arts (the charitable body set up to plan and run the new facility) have been working with top architects Haworth Tompkins, theatre design specialists Charcoalblue and a team of arts consultants to create a new cost-effective and financially viable plan for the site.

“The existing designs had been on the table for some years, ever since the developers of Brewery Square had the vision of integrating an arts facility into their plans,” said Mark Tattersall, Artistic Director of Dorchester Arts.

 “Though they were perfectly reasonable at the time they were put forward, the design of arts venues has moved on quite a lot, and at the same time arts organisations are having to design facilities that are almost entirely financially self-sustaining. The team we have been working with are amazing and we are confident that no better or more cost-effective solution will be found to providing the county town with the arts venue it so badly needs.”

Dorchester Town Council, WDDC and the Duchy of Cornwall supported the creation of the new plans and the team at the Maltings Arts have recently taken key stakeholders on site tours to show them how the new plan would work in reality.

A key requirement of the process was to make sure the costings were done in great detail so that a real target could be set for raising the funds for the project.

The new architectural team has huge experience of delivering arts projects on a budget and have covered everything – from roof repairs to soap-dispensers.

Auditorium sketch view of proposed Dorchester Maltings arts centre

The plan retains many of the features of the original design Рa flexible main auditorium with 450 seats and 100-capacity studio, along with a café/bar and all the necessary offices and backstage facilities for delivering a top-quality programme of performances and participatory activities. It will also incorporate commercial activities that will provide an income stream for the venue and make it largely self-sufficient.

An application has been submitted to WDDC for a share of the Section 106 funds built up mainly by the development of Poundbury. If granted this would represent approximately 10% of the combined budget for the arts facility and the commercial annexe, and is likely to unlock many other sources of funding.

The Maltings Arts have already had preliminary discussions with other possible funders, including Arts Council England, and Mark Tattersall said: “Securing the initial funding for projects like this is often the hardest part, but once we can show that some money has been committed to it we are very confident that others will follow.”

Louise Sheaves, Chair of The Maltings Arts and Dorchester Arts, is keen to emphasise the benefits to the community: “We were delighted to move to the Corn Exchange and feel more embedded in the town, but The Maltings would be a step-change in terms of what we would contribute to the life of the town and wider county, both economically and socially. As well as providing much-needed jobs, especially for young people, the arts facilities and caf√©/bar would be a hub for all sorts of community activities, from a place to have cup of coffee with a friend to a venue for thousands of people to see a Dorchester Community Play.”

Louise Sheaves added: “We have been delighted with the expressions of support we have received so far, but would encourage people to come along on February 15th and show just how much this means to the residents of Dorchester and Dorset.”

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