Co-op Hall

Built as an integral part of an extension to the Ramsbottom Industrial and Provident Society’s estate; the theatre is a rare surviving example from the Co-operative movement.

Sepia streetscape postcard of Ramsbottom Co-op Hall
Address
53 Bolton Street, Ramsbottom, Bury, BL0 9HU
Risk Rating
6 (Community Value: 1, Star Rating: 2, Risk Factor: 3)
Local Authority
Bury District Council
Owner
Private owner of freehold – Starcrest Developments Ltd, private owner of leasehold – Landa Corporation Ltd
Architect
Bird and Whittenbury
Date of Construction
1876
Listing
Grade II
Capacity
800 (original)

Significance

Ramsbottom Co-op Hall was built in 1874-1876 when the Ramsbottom Industrial and Provident Society built a three-story extension alongside its existing 1863 building. The new extension was constructed to house shops on the ground floor with offices, stores and an entertainment hall above, seating 800 people. Designed by Bird and Whittenbury of Manchester it was the chief social and entertainment venue in the town.

The Co-operative movement pledged to make provision for education, culture and the arts. This included lectures, Guild meetings, Temperance Services and grand concerts. During the 1920s the hall was used by travelling theatre groups and players. The Co-operative Wholesale Society ran promotional films and smoking concerts in the 1930s. During World War II it was used as an army training centre and the seating was removed. In 1944, it was taken over by the Labour Exchange and has remained unused since.

The hall itself was typical of smaller music halls, with a long rectangular, flat-floored room with rows of cast-iron columns supporting a gallery. In the 1870s music halls were steadily moving away from the ‘supper room and promenade’ style, with an open concert platform, to a more theatrical configuration with rows of benches and a simple proscenium stage and galleries. It is known that the Co-op Hall had a portable proscenium and scenery, which suggests a mid-point transitional form. Music halls were once numerous, but only a handful of those of the 1850 to 1880 period now remain. The Co-op Hall represents a historically significant building type of a provisional nature. It must also be important for the history of the Co-op.

Theatres Trust successfully applied to have the Co-op Hall listed Grade II in February 2021.

Why is this theatre at risk?

Ramsbottom Co-op Hall was added to the Theatres at Risk Register in 2021.

The building’s freehold is owned by Starcrest Developments Ltd. It has a long-term lease of 999 years dating back to 1862. The lease is currently owned by Landa Corporation Ltd, a development company, purchased in July 2019.

In June 2020, Landa Corporation Ltd submitted a planning application to convert the upper levels of the building into apartments. The scheme would have seen the complete removal of the interior of the upper levels of the building, which would have resulted in the complete loss of the interior of this historically significant music hall. Theatres Trust strongly opposed the application and recommended its refusal.

In September 2020, Bury Council placed a Building Preservation Order on the building, thereby giving it the same status as a listed building for the next six months. A local authority can serve a Building Preservation notice if it considers that a building has architectural or historic interest and is in danger of being lost. The planning application has since been withdrawn; however, the building is still considered extremely vulnerable.

View across the balcony with its iron columns and wooden ceiling at Ramsbottom Co-op HallTheatre potential

There is much of the original structure of the theatre remaining and the venue could be easily restored. There has been previous interest for the theatre to be restored and reopened as a music venue.

Current situation

Campaign group, Ramsbottom Co-op Hall Heritage Trust Limited was set up to raise awareness of the hall and to work to bring it back into community use. In March 2023 the group changed the legal status of the organisation and became a charitable community benefit society, in recognition of the history of the building and the community focus of their organisation.

The group have undertaken previous work to establish the viability of bringing the building back to use:

  • In 2021 they received £19,000 from Theatres Trust Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programmeto commission a market appraisal and a building valuation survey. The market appraisal concluded that there is evidence of demand for performances, events, weddings, meeting room and workspace hire, and hires for community activity such as yoga and dance. It also developed an outline business model demonstrating financial viability.
  • The group was also successful in an Architectural Heritage Fund bid for an architectural feasibility study and associated cost report for the building, which was commissioned with the market appraisal. This report backed the findings of the market appraisal, concluding that a hybrid model was the most suitable approach for the building. The grant was also used to support governance and training.

Leasehold owner Landa Corporation Ltd supports and is in regular contact with Ramsbottom Co-op Hall Heritage Trust Ltd regarding the progress of the reports and gaining access to the building for surveys etc to take place.

In December 2023 Ramsbottom Co-op Hall Heritage Trust Limited was successful in their application to the Community Ownership Fund, securing an award of £296,000 from the fund. This funding will enable the building to be purchased and transformed into a multi-purpose hub, offering workspaces and a performance venue to local and touring grassroot arts groups. Additional funding will be required to deliver the long-term vision for the building, but the Community Ownership funding is a vital and significant step in bringing this building back into community use.

Theatres Trust will continue to advise and support the campaign group to ensure the preservation of this important theatre.

Main image from Ken Howarth www.heritagephotoarchive.co.uk, 1973. Interior Theatres Trust, 2017.