Theatre moves back into its home after £6.75m transformation

Theatre's exterior

Contact has formally regained possession of its Manchester building, after more than two years of producing work across the city.

Construction work began in January 2018 to transform the Oxford Road building for the next generation of audiences, artists and young people, and its practical completion is a significant milestone in the major £6.75m transformation project.

Contact is the UK’s leading theatre and arts venue that puts young people at the heart of every aspect of the organisation.

It is recognised nationally and internationally as a centre of excellence in the promotion of youth leadership and creativity.

First established in 1972, Contact last underwent a major building redevelopment in 1999 with a ground-breaking new environmentally-sustainable design.

Twenty years on, the building needed to expand to cope with the growing demand from young participants and audiences, as well as further improving Contact’s economic and environmental sustainability.

In keeping with its overall ethos, Contact placed young people at the heart of design process.

A dedicated team of young people, Con:Struct, was fully involved in all aspects of the transformation project since it began exploring possible designs in 2014.

Working closely with award-winning architects and sustainable design specialists Sheppard Robson, they designed the new building to include a dedicated arts and health space, the first of its kind in any UK theatre.

The venue now also includes a purpose-built recording studio for young people’s music and media projects, a dedicated rehearsal studio for young performers, refurbished performance spaces, and offices for artists and cultural organisations to hire.

Since Spring 2018, Contact’s staff and participants have been based at the Powerhouse in Moss Side, while delivering their shows and activities across the city.

Performance venues have ranged from a sari shop on Wilmslow Road, Upper Campfield Market, a Grade I-listed warehouse at the Science and Industry Museum in Castlefield, the abandoned tunnels under Victoria Station, as well as at well-known venues the Palace Theatre, the Lowry, Royal Exchange Theatre and Hope Mill.

Contact’s Youth projects continued to thrive in communities across Greater Manchester, including the national social change project The Agency, based in North Manchester, and the award-winning Contact Young Company.

The practical completion of the building will see Contact reopen in September 2020, for socially-distant participation and creative activities, with performances scheduled to start in 2021.

The completion of the construction work also marks the start of a new fundraising campaign by Contact, to fit-out the new parts of the building for the next generation of performers and creatives

New foyer area

Matt Fenton, Contact chief executive and artistic director, said: “The reopened Contact will transform the experience for audiences, artists and young people alike.

“It’s more important than ever that young people from all backgrounds and cultures can come together to create, express themselves, and access free training and skills.

“We can’t wait to start to welcome back our young participants from across Greater Manchester, and, in due course, to host audiences of all ages to experience shows in our unique, sustainably-designed building.”

Josh Wilkinson, Contact participant and Young Trustee said: “The Contact building has a vibe like no other. As a Young Trustee and Contact participant, I cannot wait to get back into our incredible new venue and start creating.”

The project has been funded thanks to a £3.85m investment from Arts Council England, plus generous grants from other supporters, trusts and foundations including Manchester City Council, the Foyle Foundation, the Granada Foundation, Wellcome Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation and the Oglesby Charitable Trust. Help in-kind was given from Manchester University and Bruntwood.

Construction work was carried out by F Parkinson, with project management from Mace. Legal advice was provided by Mills and Reeve.