A locally popular, intimate venue and Dover’s only publicly accessible theatre.
- Dover Discovery Centre, York St, Market Square, Dover CT16 1PH
- Risk Rating
- 6 (Community Value: 3, Star Rating: 1, Risk Factor: 2)
- Local Authority
- Dover District Council
- Kent County Council / Dover District Council
- Date of Construction
- Not listed / Asset of Community Value
- Database Link
- View in Theatres Database
The intimate 100-seat Roundhouse Theatre is located within the Dover Discovery Centre, a complex constructed in the late 1980s and built around two areas of Roman remains at either end of the site with a medieval church in the middle. The building was originally built as a visitor attraction, housing animatronics that supported the White Cliffs Visitor experience. It currently houses a library and registrar service, the Adult Education Service, the Bronze Age Boat and Dover Museum. It was home to the Black Fish Theatre and Academy, a training establishment for performing arts as well as other community users who stopped using the building in 2022.
The theatre was designated an Asset of Community Value in September 2021, a move opposed by Kent County Council but approved by Dover District Council.
There is a lack of cultural infrastructure in the town and Arts Council England has given Dover Priority Place status (places in which cultural engagement and Arts Council England investment have been low). The situation is exacerbated by the closure of the Roundhouse, the only publicly accessible theatre space apart from a school theatre.
Why is this theatre at risk?
The Roundhouse was added to the Theatres at Risk Register in 2022.
Kent County Council and Dover District Council have split ownership of the Dover Discovery Centre. Current plans for a Dover Community Hub will see key children’s services and other local authority services relocated to the building. These original proposals did not retain the theatre. The plans were recommended for approval by Kent County Council in August 2021. Kent County Council and Dover District Council have entered into a funding agreement for the £7.75m cost to commence the redevelopment and deliver the scheme.
Black Fish Academy, whose lease expired in 2013, remained at the theatre under an informal arrangement that ended in 2022. This leaves Dover without a key theatre provision. Kent County Council is commissioning a feasibility study into the potential future use of the Roundhouse as a cultural space, but until plans are fully developed, the theatre space remains at risk.
This has been an active theatre used by a range of drama groups such as Dover Operatic and Dramatic Society and Dover Youth Theatre providing amateur dramatics and performance training and experience to young people.
There is a desire and demand for the space to be retained for this use and to continue to serve its local community. The redevelopment proposals have attracted much criticism within the local community, with a petition attracting more than 1,000 signatures, and a successful application to have the building listed as an Assets of Community Value.
A planning application for alterations to the Dover Discovery Centre was submitted in April 2022. This included work to consult with the main cultural organisations, including Black Fish, Dover Operatic and Drama Society and Future Foundry. Theatres Trust strongly objected to this application which would have seen the Roundhouse Theatre converted to council office space.
In August 2022, we further objected to plans to convert the Roundhouse to office space due to omissions and lack of information. Kent County Council has now withdrawn the application and is instead planning to focus on community cultural activity within the Roundhouse. In the meantime, the children’s services are still relocating to the Discovery Centre building, although not impacting on the Roundhouse space.
Theatres Trust has had early initial discussions with key stakeholders about developing a Cultural Advisory Group, and exploring alternative provisions within the town, and are continuing to provide support both in relation to the operation of the Roundhouse and wider theatre provision within Dover.
Main image, Roundhouse Theatre by Ian Grundy.