The London Borough of Merton has granted planning permission for a major redevelopment of Polka Theatre’s much-loved premises in Wimbledon, the first since it opened its doors in 1979.
The plans received unanimous support from Merton’s Planning Committee and have been designed with input from artists, arts professionals and also young theatre audiences, ensuring the iconic Polka Theatre remains an inspiring and magical place. The new scheme includes the UK’s first ever purpose-built centre for early years theatre in response to the growing demand for Polka’s work for the under sixes. In addition to new performance spaces, it will provide creative learning, research and professional development facilities as well as indoor and outdoor areas where all children can pop in to play, create and explore for free.
Commenting on the news, Artistic Director and CEO, Pete Glanville said:
“We are thrilled to have been given the green light by Merton! Since we first opened, an estimated 3.5m children have been through our doors and the building is feeling the strain. Polka’s ambition is to create world-class theatre and welcoming spaces where children can play and discover. We are never short of the ideas, imagination and energy to make that happen but we struggle with old and inefficient facilities which are simply not up to the increasing demand for our productions and activities or the exceptional quality of experience Polka strives to provide.
Thanks to the support from Arts Council England, the London Borough of Merton, several major trusts and local donors, we are now a significant step closer to realising our long-cherished dream to transform our aging building. As a charity, this will help secure Polka’s long term sustainability, artistically and financially, preserving what is special about Polka – a place of wonder and inspiration for children, schools, families and artists, and a vibrant hub for our local community.”
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan added:
“Theatre has the ability to entertain, enrich and empower children from all walks of life. As a Patron of Polka Theatre, I’ve seen first-hand the important contribution to children’s theatre they have made and now we have a brilliant opportunity to expand that work for generations to come. This redevelopment will be a wonderful example of how London theatres can contribute to the future of arts education and culture in the UK.”
With fundraising plans well in hand, it is hoped that work on the scheme, designed by RIBA award-winning architects, Foster Wilson, will begin early in 2019, with the theatre due to reopen in Spring 2020. Meanwhile, the closure period will allow Polka to explore a number of innovative partnerships and touring opportunities both within the local borough and nationwide.
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