During the Second World War, Exeter was devastatingly bombed as part of the Baedeker Blitz – a German campaign against five British cities with specific cultural and historical value. After the worst of these attacks in May 1942, German radio announced that “Exeter was the jewel of the west… we have destroyed that jewel”.
Fast forward seventy years, and Exeter is once again a key creative hub in the South West region. The city already boasts an impressive range of arts venues, including the Northcott Theatre and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, and the Bike Shed Theatre has revealed plans to add to this great cultural heritage. They intend to convert Maclaines Warehouse by the Quay – formerly the Maritime Museum – to a 250-seat auditorium, complete with studio spaces and a café-bar.
Well-known for its arty performances, the Bike Shed has only been around for five years and yet it’s already cemented its reputation for great entertainment. Currently with a 60-seat capacity in its dynamic city centre location, the new plans represent a large jump in ambition. The project is currently in a public consultation stage, and as such the theatre is also considering proposals to add an indoor market or some office spaces to the venue. However, the plans for the project are coming together and local MP Ben Bradshaw has already spoken about the exciting possibilities this entails for Exeter, noting the city could soon become “one of the country’s most important cultural destinations”.
The great location is also an important factor. Architectural firm Haworth Tompkins have seen the excellent potential offered by the Grade II listed building, and their drawings show an intention to stick to the maritime origins of the former museum. Haworth Tompkins have experience with many similar projects, most notably ‘The Shed’, an iconic red auditorium which was set up at the National Theatre in 2013. Nicholas Hytner, also of the National Theatre, has previously acknowledged Exeter’s need for this sort of development, saying “a new theatre would bring substantial benefits to the cultural life of the city”.
Provisionally called The Boat Shed, the new theatre will be more than just a performance space. The style of the building lends itself to be a free-flowing structure in which the social areas will connect with the theatrical and creative. Although the project is still in its early stages, with the right public and private support the Bike Shed’s proposal could soon become a reality. In his announcement of the project, David Lockwood stated that: “Normally at the start of a capital project, you’d be asked for money. But at this stage we’d rather have your ideas”. So if you’ve got any ideas “however boring or outrageous”, don’t hesitate to get in touch: email@example.com.
Emily Kerr and Jeremy Brown, Arts & Lit Editors