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Fears curtain could fall on theatre after funds U-turn

Uni pulls request for Riverside money

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Actor: Jimmy Nesbitt with the hat he wore playing the Artful Dodger in the Riverside Theatre’s production of Oliver as a young man

Actor: Jimmy Nesbitt with the hat he wore playing the Artful Dodger in the Riverside Theatre’s production of Oliver as a young man

Actor: Jimmy Nesbitt with the hat he wore playing the Artful Dodger in the Riverside Theatre’s production of Oliver as a young man

There are fears for the future of the Riverside Theatre in Coleraine after Ulster University withdrew a request for council funding.

The news led one councillor to claim “the place is down for closure”.

The theatre, commissioned by the New University of Ulster (now Ulster University) in the 1970s, has seen many Irish, British and international stage, screen and television stars perform in the Riverside.

Cold Feet star James Nesbitt, who was the university’s chancellor until recently, is one of the famous faces who have starred at the theatre beside the Bann over the years. He even named his winning racehorse ‘Riverside Theatre’.

GoldenEye star Alan Cumming, comedian and former University of Ulster student Omid Djalili, and Trainspotting actor Jonny Lee Miller have all taken to the Riverside’s stage.

Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson were unknowns when they played in he Bannside theatre, having just graduated from the Cambridge Footlights.

Members of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough’s Leisure and Development Committee were informed that council officers had received notification from the university on November 4 confirming withdrawal of their request for funding.

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Yet at October’s meeting of the committee, a report had been brought requesting funding to support the Riverside Theatre to the sum of £107,500 through a service contract and on the basis of a submission received from the Ulster University.

At the time the committee agreed to defer its decision subject to a workshop to discuss the proposal and the university’s longer term estates strategy for the theatre.

At November’s meeting on Tuesday the report brought before members noted: “The University has confirmed that there is work being undertaken to ensure the on-campus theatre remains an asset for delivering academic excellence and a rich student learning experience.

“Furthermore, staff have been informed that the independent review commissioned by the University is due to conclude by the end of January 2022 and will inform the theatre’s future and potential as a venue.”

Having written to Vice Chancellor Professor Bartholomew requesting an urgent meeting, Alliance councillor Yvonne Boyle spoke of her concern saying that it was a “critical time” for the Riverside Theatre 

Council officer Julie Walsh explained to members: “I was contacted by the university to say they would pass up on the opportunity for funding subject to their review which they are hoping to have finished in January.

“It was news to us,” Ms Walsh added. “We were working on the basis of last month’s report and they didn’t give any indication then.”

DUP councillor George Duddy said: “Last month we asked them to come to present and then they pull their request for funding.”

PUP councillor Russell Watton said he “despaired about what is happening”.

“The place is down for closure and it looks to be travelling down the same route a lot of things are down there, except nobody will say it.”

A UU spokesperson said: “The University has confirmed to the Council that it has decided not to proceed with the programme funding proposal for this year.”


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