Swanage Mayor backs plan to breathe fresh life into The Mowlem

Swanage’s mayor has voiced his full support for a regeneration of the town’s iconic Mowlem theatre.

In a session of Swanage Town Council’s full council meeting on Monday 14th December 2020, members considered proposals from the theatre’s trustees to reboot The Mowlem as a thriving hub of local cultural life in the wake of the Covid pandemic.


This would include seeking partnerships with local arts organisations with the aim of boosting The Mowlem’s profile in the south west’s cultural scene.

Exterior of The Mowlem

“An ugly building but it’s iconic”

Swanage’s mayor, councillor Mike Bonfield endorsed the idea, noting the significance of the site in the hearts of Swanage residents.

He said:

“I fully support it. I think The Mowlem’s an ugly building, but it’s iconic for Swanage – and I think if anybody comes to Swanage, if you say meet by the big square building on the seafront, they cannot miss it.

“I think it is something that does need protecting for the future.”

The council agreed that the mayor would attend the theatre’s trustee meetings in an observer capacity to show the council’s complete support for the regeneration plans.

The auditorium at The Mowlem

Arts under COVID

When the first national coronavirus prevention lockdown was introduced in March 2020, most arts and entertainment venues – including The Mowlem – were closed.

As a result, these centres have struggled under the pandemic – but the trustees of The Mowlem plan to help the town’s recovery and turn the building into a thriving centre of culture.

Speaking on behalf of the trustees, Andrea Etherington said:

“Swanage, being neither a village nor a city, does not possess a thriving village hall, nor a range of urban theatres and cinemas. What it does have – to our good fortune, and thanks to John Mowlem – is a building dedicated to improving the conditions of life of Swanage inhabitants.”

“We are determined to expand what The Mowlem has to offer for the inhabitants of Swanage, and create a buzzing centre of social and cultural activity. This desire, unfortunately coincides with perhaps the greatest challenge to arts venues including months of closure.”

The exterior of The Mowlem

A community hub

Mayor Bonfield was not the only member of the council to endorse the proposals.

Councillor Gary Suttle indicated that he would likely support the plans, welcoming the fresh community based initiative.

He said:

“I’ve been sat on this council for nearly 30 years and not once have I heard anything positive about The Mowlem. 

“I was very interested to hear (trustee) Deborah Paige say that it can open doors for people, but this will be the first opportunity that the council has seen any open doors in respect to The Mowlem and that opportunity to work for the benefit of the community.

“That is the whole purpose of The Mowlem. And that is why it is there – to benefit our community, for education, betterment, entertainment and it should be the hub of the community.”

Councillor Avril Harris said:

“I’d just like to add my support to the proposals, and it would be great to have a cultural centre in Swanage. We’ve got plans with the football club for a really good sports centre and this in a sense, will complement that, so that sporting and physical wellbeing will be supported but also now cultural wellbeing as well.”

The current Mowlem building is now more than 50 years old, having been built in 1967. The original centre was built by John Mowlem in 1886.

Coloured lights on the exterior of the Mowlem for Christmas

The Mowlem Christmas Appeal

The Mowlem trustees have launched a Christmas appeal to help the theatre get through the winter.

Next year there will be a consultation with people in Swanage and the wider community to determine The Mowlem’s future direction but the trustees say they need help now to cover the cost of seven months of closure and to take the theatre through to 2021. They are welcoming all donations, large or small.

To donate go to their crowdfunder page

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