The £2.8M development, funded by Cheshire West and Chester Council and Arts Council England, is the only specialist, purpose-built theatre and cultural centre for children and young people in Cheshire and one of a small number across England.
The new build transformation was designed by the Manchester studio of London-based award-winning architects Bennetts Associates who designed Storyhouse, a flagship venue for arts and culture in Chester.
As delivery architects, Cassidy + Ashton ensured Bennetts Associates’ original architectural concepts were delivered. The team worked on the detailed design alongside appointed contractor, EQUANS, specialists in low-carbon construction, refurbishment, and energy systems – to deliver the project through to completion.
The new contemporary performance space and cultural centre houses a state-of-the-art 150-seat flexible auditorium for performances and film screenings and rehearsal and workshop rooms. It also offers gallery spaces for artists and a new café with an outdoor terrace.
The theatre is fitted with the highest quality technical facilities in sound and lighting with specialist equipment to broadcast National Theatre Live screenings.
Ian Riches, senior chartered architectural technologist at Cassidy + Ashton, said: “This was an exciting project for Cassidy + Ashton to be involved in. It delivers cutting edge innovation in the principles of sustainable design and materials, passive technology and modern methods of construction.
“It is quite a complex building considering its size and shape and our team worked closely alongside the contractors to see it through to completion. We now look forward to seeing performances in action in the new state-of-the-art space that we have created.”
Alyson Seddon, head of education and public buildings at EQUANS, said: ‘This new cultural venue is vital to the local community, I’m looking forward to seeing it getting the use it deserves.”
The public opening of the new theatre also marks a new era for the company under its new name Theatre Porto, which was decided following consultation with local young people.
Councillor Louise Gittins, leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council said: “I am so excited that the wait is over, and the transformed Whitby Hall is ready to welcome audiences and performers again. I’ve been following the work and I know how important this will be for the young people of Ellesmere Port and across the borough.
“This is far more than an investment in a building, it’s an investment in our young people, the arts and culture. This new cultural building will make its mark on young lives for many years to come. It is also the start of many more plans for Ellesmere Port over the next few years”.
Nina Hajiyianni, Artistic Director of Theatre Porto says: “Theatre Porto co-creates and presents the highest quality theatre experiences for families, young audiences, and participants. We provide a welcoming and accessible space for all children and young people, to tap into their creativity and potential.
“Our mission is to champion their ideas and creativity and at the same time, create opportunities for adults to rediscover their sense of curiosity and playfulness”.
Founded in 1986 as Action Transport Theatre, Theatre Porto produces original theatre and wide-ranging youth and community work. The company has a strong track-record in transforming the lives of local children, young people, and wider communities.
Photos courtesy of Sam Hutchinson.