Jim Beirne talks about developing Live Works

As Chair of the Theatres Trust Conference taking place this week, with the theme of ‘valuing theatres’ Jim Beirne MBE, Chief Executive, Live Theatre explains more about the reasons of developing Live Works.

If the culture of a place is successful, it’ll be fun and safe, students will come, universities will thrive, students will stay, SMEs will grow, and therefore so will the economy. The city can then afford to re-invest in its people, its ideas, and in its capital infrastructure. As Benjamin Barber, the political scientist said “Culture and economy are the twin pillars of any successful and creative city”.

In this context what value do theatres bring to capital and social regeneration, commercial development and mixed-use schemes? Do we partner with developers who are playing an increasingly important role as theatre builders and capital investors, do we become developers ourselves, or do we allow the developers to do it for us, or to us?

When Live Theatre started on the path of building its long-term sustainability we decided to become developers ourselves. Live Theatre’s current development, Live Works, is an £10m mixed use scheme. It includes commercial offices, new 14,500 sq.ft. offices, a quayside park, an outdoor stage, and a creative writing and literacy project that will reach thousands of children.

Live Theatre's Live Works courtyard. CGI image by Flanagan Lawrence.

In my own case, there were a number of reasons why Newcastle City Council agreed a £6m prudential loan to Live Theatre for Live Works. It was the last derelict prime site on Newcastle’s quayside and they could see the commercial value in the scheme – in existing assets and leases, matched with grant income. We also had a high level of credibility with the Council and were thought of highly by our community and the city for our plays and our work with young people. So for the city we are place making – supported by commercial value, and for Live Theatre’s board we create more art.

Public sector investors are increasingly looking to developers to help deliver new infrastructure, housing, economic growth, and social well-being, and theatres need to be ready to make the case for the value of theatres in masterplans, development agreements and partnerships, and planning obligations.

I see seeds of this appearing this region. Sunderland is the largest city in the North East yet has only one Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. Slowly a masterplan is developing in a range of buildings in the city centre, moving outward from a former fire station and gastro pub. It has Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England support and the backing of the city. A small group of influential people utilising commercial development opportunities are changing the nature of a place with ambition, great design and time – using a mix of culture and economy.

In NewcastleGateshead over £280m has been spent in the last 15 years on cultural regeneration. Over 2,000 people are employed by the 10 NewcastleGateshead Cultural Venues which produces a collective annual turnover of £83m – measured by Green Book rules. We are certainly thinking like developers and our plans for the next 15 years include commercial and asset development, which we hope will contribute directly and indirectly to our collective missions.

Live Works Frontage CGI by Flanagan Lawrence1

Looking back – and forward, the political landscape has changed irrevocably since I started work with Live Theatre. As we face another five years of austerity, the outlook for public bodies such as Local Authorities looks outstandingly bad with projected cuts made even worse by some protected government departments. So it is important that theatres think differently about their future, their assets, and their opportunities, and use these as a mechanism to continue to grow.

The devolution of government investment starting with Scotland and ending with the English regions has the possibility of bringing new resources to theatres and the cultural sector more generally. Manchester has understood the fundamental link between culture and the economy and the innovation of the Northern Powerhouse may well help to grow the economy of the North.

In total we have raised £22m in eight years for our theatre and social enterprises, which have been largely about asset development. Eventually, if all goes well, these will be significant assets on the charity’s balance sheet – securing its financial future. By 2018 the theatre will receive a net £500,000 of unrestricted income per annum from these projects to invest back into new plays and arts education.

For more information Live Works see www.live.org.uk/liveworks or on letting the Live Theatre’s Live Works development contact Knight Frank on (0191) 221 2211 or see www.liveworks.org.uk.

Live Works is supported by a £2.5 million grant from the North East European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Programme 2007 to 2013, Arts Council England, and loans from Newcastle City Council and North East Local Enterprise Partnership. Fundraising is continuing with grants from The Catherine Cookson Charitable Trust, the Gillian Dickinson Trust, The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Monument Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Sir James Knott Trust, the Social Investment Business and the Wolfson Foundation already secured.


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