The Ardhowen Theatre in Enniskillen will close next spring/summer to benefit from a full refurbishment at an estimated cost of £7.14 million, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has confirmed to The Impartial Reporter.

The planned 2023 works are to include a full upgrading and updating of the facility to "meet contemporary standards", and are not limited to the structure of the building; its environs and unique lakeside aspect will also be enhanced.

A Council spokesman explained that this will allow the local authority to offer a "high-quality visitor experience" to customers, residents, visitors and performers.

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A number of key principles have informed the project, including enhancing the visitor experience, improving disability accessibility, creating a more environmentally sustainable facility, and community at the heart.

The Council spokesman said: "When the refurbishment is completed, the Ardhowen will play an enhanced role in volunteering, creative arts education, apprenticeships and providing access to artists, advice, networking, and training.

"As such, the proposed refurbished venue would endeavour to find innovative creative solutions to fulfil social remits."

When asked when the refurbishment works will begin, and how long will the theatre be closed for, the Council spokesman replied: "It is anticipated that works will commence on-site and the theatre will close in spring/summer 2023.

"At this stage, a full build programme is yet to be agreed, but the Council is assuming that works will take a year to 18 months, and hopes to reopen towards the end of 2024."

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Upon its reopening in 2024, the Council expects to generate a 50 per cent minimum annual increase in revenue, increase out-of-district visits by 15 per cent; obtain a five-star accreditation through Tourism Northern Ireland’s ‘Visitor Experiences’ Grading Scheme within one year of reopening, and to ensure any refurbishment contributes to environmental sustainability goals.

This newspaper also asked if there will be a temporary arts centre/theatre venue opened to provide live entertainment in Fermanagh whilst the Ardhowen is closed?

In response, the Council spokesperson said: "The team at the Ardhowen is preparing for this period off-site and will offer a programme of classes, workshops and performances at other venues and locations.

"It hopes to work with and support its long-term and valued local partners including the drama festival, Lakeland Players, light opera, and local drama, cultural and music groups, to find options to facilitate continued delivery."

The Council spokesman went on to outline how the refurbishment of the theatre will positively impact Fermanagh.

"The Council considers that the investment will offer the potential for the theatre to do more with and for the community, and to do it differently.

"The proposed refurbishment of the theatre offers the potential for it to offer more than the typical seasonal theatre offer, and to create a venue that can truly enrich the lives of those in the area.

"Alongside an increased programme in the auditorium, the Council anticipates that the proposed development will focus on social impacts by bringing community strands together, such as learning, arts and drama."

They added that a "fit-for-purpose venue for a changing and ageing population" will assist the Council to deliver the Fermanagh and Omagh Community Plan 2030 outcomes.

This includes combating issues around the isolated elderly, and promoting the best start in life for children and young people through a variety of workshops, classes and activities.

In summary, the Council anticipates that the Ardhowen can be transformed into a "vibrant" regional theatre; a creative and community-focused, accessible and inclusive venue that delivers high-quality performances and experiences that positively contribute to the cultural, social and economic outcomes of the area.