Theatr Ardudwy

The first post-war theatre listed in Wales and a fine example of Brutalist architecture.

The Brutalist exterior of Tameside Hippodrome.
Address
St David's Hill, Harlech, Gwynedd, LL46 2PU, Wales
Risk Rating
7 (Community Rating: 3, Star Value: 2, Risk Factor: 2.)
Local Authority
Gwynedd Council
Owner
Coleg Harlech Limited
Architect
Colwyn Foulkes and Partners
Date of Construction
1973
Listing
Grade II*
Capacity
266

Significance

Theatr Ardudwy was built as an arts centre attached to the Grade II* listed Coleg Harlech, an adult education college. In 2016 it was determined that the theatre itself should also be included in the listing as it was both under the same ownership and as a structure forming part of and attached to a listed building. Some of the theatre’s facilities are also housed in parts of the original college building. The theatre is a radical design with all elements of the building having a clear external expression and is also considered a fine example of refined Brutalism of the period.

The auditorium of Theatr Ardudwy with its sweep of steeply raked seating focused on an open stage with small curved thrust. Seats are light rust and faded mustard with backing in black

Why is this theatre at risk?

Theatr Ardudwy has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2019.

The future of the theatre and the Coleg Harlech site had been perilous for several years prior to the theatre’s inclusion on the Theatres at Risk list. Addysg Oedolion Cymru, the previous owner, had been in conversation with Welsh Government about an urgent repair and planned maintenance programme for both the college and the theatre building. A feasibility study commissioned for the college site in 2016 recommended that a hotel or restaurant with serviced accommodation would be the most viable use for the site, and this would be run by a commercial operator. Concerns were raised that the physical condition of the theatre building may deter commercial operators and, through this, concern over the long-term viability of the theatre. At that time it was suggested that the theatre be demolished. This led to the confirmation that the theatre was indeed included in the Coleg’s statutory listing, offering some protection for its future.

In February 2018 safety concerns finally forced the theatre to close. There had been little investment in the external fabric of the building for many years. The roof was in need of repair and there were concerns over the deteriorating condition of the exterior of the building, including some of the concrete elements where the steel reinforcement had rusted. There were also reports of lead and copper theft from both the theatre workshop and main college roofs during this time.

In November 2018 Cadw (the Welsh Government's historic environment service) in partnership with Snowdonia National Park Authority and working with the owner, undertook to complete a Planning Guidance Note to provide a planning framework to inform any future development. This records the theatre as a significant heritage asset on the site, further helping to protect the building’s future.

The college site has since been plagued by ownership issues. It was bought by local businessman Leslie Banks in April 2019 but put back on the market in the October of the same year. An auction in autumn 2020 then saw the site split into separate lots, the historical parts of the site – including the theatre – being kept as one lot. This was felt to be to the detriment of the historic buildings which, if the site had been kept in one ownership, may have been able to benefit from enabling development elsewhere on the site to help fund necessary repair works.

In June 2021 the theatre and associated listed buildings on the site were sold to a private owner, who has indicated an ambition to reopen both theatre and college buildings for the local community. There are still challenges to be overcome regarding the condition of the building and substantial funding required for necessary repair work however it is hoped that the new ownership is the start of a positive new future for Theatr Ardudwy.

Theatre potential

The local community currently has no access to the arts without significant travel.

Arts Council of Wales has awarded the theatre various grants over the years and believes that the theatre and wider college site has potential as a community and cultural sector asset.

Current situation

Theatres Trust was contacted by the current owner in 2020 to discuss the condition of the theatre, opportunities for the building and his ambition for community-focused reuse of the Coleg and theatre buildings. Theatres Trust has been providing advice and support where required including funding advice and support with lease and insurance queries.

The theatre and listed parts of the site including Wern Fawr and the library were acquired by the owner in June 2021. The ambition for the buildings remains community-focused with an intention to reopen the buildings as soon as is practicably possible and full restoration a longer-term ambition.

In July 2021 a meeting was convened between the owner, Gwynedd Council, Cadw, Arts Council Wales, Snowdonia National Park Authority and Theatres Trust to discuss the owner’s ambitions for the college and theatre. The meeting was positive with all parties supportive of the suggested approach for progressive restoration.

The owner has since met with consulting engineers and building control on site to discuss the condition of the buildings and remains in contact with the local authority and Cadw about their planned approach to see the theatre and college reopened.

Work to clean up the site has since commenced alongside initial enabling works, including commissioning a new survey of the concrete panels, with a view to having events on-site for spring 2022 and working to reopen the theatre after that. It is envisaged that the theatre will be run as a professional house, hosting a variety of cultural events to serve the local community, tourism in the area and provide a wider reach to North Wales. Restoration and reopening of the remainder of the site will follow in a phased approach.

Theatres Trust looks forward to seeing the plans for both the Coleg and the theatre as they develop and to working with the owner to help them achieve their ambition.

Main photo Theatre Ardudwy, Brinkstock/Alamy Stock Photo. Interior, Theatres Trust, Rob Firman