MAJOR plans to regenerate and extend The Anvil and Haymarket theatres are in the pipeline, the Gazette can exclusively reveal.

Responding to the Gazette’s campaign Basingstoke Deserves Better – which calls for urgent action to breathe life back into the town centre – bosses at Anvil Arts have shared with us exciting new plans for the town’s theatres.

Matthew Cleaver, chief executive of Anvil Arts, and Chris Smith, the new chair of the Anvil Trust, spoke to the Gazette about their plans to rejuvenate the town’s theatres.

The trust submitted its plans to the borough council in August and is now waiting for feedback.

They include a major revamp of the outside space of The Anvil to incorporate an external amphitheatre to stage performances; pop-up food and drink stalls outside before and after performances; and the removal of The Malls lifts and car park ramp to create a new square to be seen from The Malls and station entrance, used as a public space.

The ambitious plans would also see a revamp of the rooftop terrace with direct access to the bar as an additional space for evening entertainment and VIP and corporate use, and reconfiguration of The Malls to open up The Anvil so it can be viewed from the station, with the possibility of a ‘high-end’ restaurant occupying part of the new public square space.

Other ideas include creating outside digital screens to show films and an extension to The Anvil to accommodate training and teaching spaces for conferences, a small cinema, exhibition space and co-working area.

The café and bar would open onto the new square area, with the aim of making the foyer a destination itself.

The trust also wants to create outside seating space at The Haymarket, with hopes to work with The Willis Museum to transform the Top of Town into a lively, vibrant area.

The trust has been working with Basingstoke architects Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt, who have offered their time for free, to create visual representations of the plans.

It has been inspired by theatres across the country, including Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre and Dublin’s The Ark Theatre.

The extension, which would utilise land previously required for the Malls car park ramp, would “create a bold and exciting frontage onto Alencon Link helping to define the new public realm/Anvil Square”, the trust said.

It added that the proposals are “about creating spaces which can be used throughout the day and evening”.

Speaking to the Gazette, Mr Smith said: “There’s a real drive to build a new town centre around culture and entertainment.”

Mr Cleaver added: “Everyone knows about the great performances, but it’s about adding to that so there are other things going on during the day. Part of that is how do we make this work?”

He explained that The Anvil’s café closed during the day 16 years ago after Festival Place was built. The shopping centre brought competition in the form of cafes and restaurants, which took away custom from the theatre.

Now, the trust wants to transform the town’s theatres and bring them back into use by the community.

“People want a vibrant and exciting place to go out,” said Chris, adding: “Basingstoke needs a cultural and creative injection.”

He said the trust was determined to make the plans a success and transform the theatres, adding: “It’s up to us to show leadership. It’s a reaction to the change that’s come over the hill. We want to develop, grow, improve and re-engage.”

Mr Cleaver said: “Just as the council thought 30 years’ ago Basingstoke needs a top-class music venue and the Anvil was built, this is what we need next that builds on the success of what we have and develop these facilities for all sorts of groups.

"We are ambitious for Basingstoke. There are all sorts of things that need urgent attention and we want to feed into that conversation.”

The chief executive said his hopes were to “open the doors” to the theatres and said now is “the perfect time because of everything else that’s happening in the town”, explaining: “The Malls and Festival Place has to change physically as well as what’s on offer there so it’s perfect timing to tie all these ideas in as part of that process.”

Mr Smith added: “We have a role to play in the regeneration of the town centre.”