The Boat Shed

We’re thrilled to announce our plans for a new creative space on Exeter’s quay.

Two years ago, we were invited to look around the Maclaines warehouses, which were most recently used as the Maritime Museum but have fallen into disuse for the last 17 years. We’ve worked with experts including the Stirling Prize-winning architects Haworth Tompkins, to develop a vision of how these wonderful old buildings, which play such a distinctive part in the heritage of Exeter and The Quay, could be used.

Our vision is to bring these landmark buildings back to life and give them a new purpose as a centre of creativity and enterprise for Exeter.  The 200-year old warehouses that once stored valuable cargoes of cloth, wool, wine and coal and fuelled Exeter’s rapid commercial growth will become a home for theatre, music, performers, artists and designers as part of Exeter’s thriving new economy.  The warehouses are a natural focus for the real working history of the Canal and Quay, the place where people struggled to shift huge loads of raw materials so that other people could become wealthy. We want to explore and share the history and meaning of these buildings and embed the stories of the people who lived and worked there into the spaces we develop.  In 2015, we presented our plans to Exeter Canal and Quay Trust (who own the buildings and who kindly gave us funding to conduct the feasibility). We can now reveal our plans:

  • On the ground floor there’ll be a bar, cafe and bakery, open from morning to midnight. There’ll also be an indoor market for craft, design, food and drink.
  • On the first floor, there’ll be a 250-seat theatre, a smaller room for comedy and live music and desk and studio space for creative companies.
  • On the second floor, there’ll be rehearsal rooms, both for professional work and for educational activities.

So how are you going to do that then?

Clearly we need to raise some money to make this happen. Whilst we’re doing this we’re keen to hear as wide a range of ideas for how the space could be used. Our ideas are only the starting point and they’re all up for grabs. We also hope to have access to the site from an early stage so that we can host events there in its current state, gently breathing it into life and inviting people into the process of reviving it, testing the building to see what works best.

How much is it going to cost?

The first budget expects it to cost £4,000,000 to fully transform all spaces.

Where’s the money going to come from?

We’re hoping to secure investment from three main funders: Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Regional Development Fund. We’ll also expect to raise smaller amounts from trusts and foundations, local businesses and generous individuals.

What’s the business model?

Our business model takes into consideration the financial reality of the current political climate. Our approach is to look at where we can maximise earned income rather than expecting government subsidy and this feeds into creating a building that will be bursting with activity for 14 hours a day with an indoor market, bakery, creative start-ups – all under one roof.

Wouldn’t it be better to spend £4m on existing cultural buildings in Exeter?

The simple answer is that this isn’t an “either/or”. We’ll be working with our partners across the city to enable this project to happen. As has been seen in Newcastle over the last 15 years and is currently being seen in Manchester, when one organisation brings investment into the city, others tend to benefit too, directly as well as indirectly. We are committed to making Exeter a vibrant cultural city and this will only be achieved by collaboration across the cultural sector.

When do you think this will happen?

We want to start using the building this year, with the plan to host a series of pop-up events within the next year. Inevitably, capital projects have a habit of taking considerably longer than you hope. A lot depends on the outcome of the funding applications, the first of which will be to the Heritage Lottery Fund later this year.

What does that mean for the current Bike Shed on Fore Street?

There are no plans to leave our Fore Street home when the new theatre opens. The opportunity of having both spaces will allow us to be more flexible and we envisage being able to make even more of the unique oddities of our original theatre.

How can I get involved?

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 there’s anything you’d like to see in the space – however boring or outrageous – please get in touch. Our Director and Co-Founder David Lockwood is keen to hear from you. You can reach him on davidlockwood@bikeshedtheatre.co.uk.

What if I have objections?

No ambitious project has ever been without its doubters. Problems aired can become problems solved. If you’re concerned about any element of this, get in touch. We’d welcome your constructive input.

Image credits: Howarth Tompkins (top), Benjamin Borley (bottom)