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My Coliseum: The children of Oldham

"By forcing the Coliseum to close, you are closing down those children’s dreams.”

Just under a year ago when the news broke that the Oldham Coliseum was set to close its doors for good, a group of 7-10 year olds from an Oldham Primary school penned letters to the Arts Council, the Coliseum Board and Oldham Council, begging them to reverse their decision.

Finlay wrote the above quote, adding:  “Many children look up to the performers who have trodden upon the Oldham Coliseum’s boards. Some of those children hope to grow up to be just like them."

For over 140 years the Coliseum welcomed local artists that entertained children far and wide and went on to inspire the next generation.

As Julie Hesmondhalgh said in her article for The Stage following the success of 'Mr Bates vs The Post Office', "In closing down regional theatres such as Oldham Coliseum, we are cutting off a stream of talent at the source."

So many of our country's most talented actors, actresses and writers sat in the audience in that Fairbottom street theatre before taking their first steps in the arts on that stage.

Some of the children who wrote those letters had had the opportunity to perform upon that sacred stage and had nothing but happy memories connected to the theatre.

Olivia said: “When I was in year 2, my class and I performed a poem on the grand, unique, Coliseum stage. Everything was joyous, the air filled with happiness. It brings tears to my eyes thinking about the closure.”

Some dreamed of a future on that stage: "It’s a place of dreams and if it closes, my life and my hopes will turn grey.”

Flicking through the letters, it was devastating to read that family traditions were coming to an end.

Many of the children talked of attending the pantomimes at Christmas with their parents and grandparents who had also done the same with their parents when they were children.

One boy wrote: “Every year my family go to watch the pantomime and when he was a child, my dad went as well. It is sad to think that if I had children they would be unable to enjoy this family tradition.”

It was a place that brought joy into the lives of so many, and was the highlight of the year for many children who attended the Panto with school.

Alex said: “Ever since I first went to the Coliseum, I had so much fun and laughed so hard I nearly cried. It gave me something to look forward to.”

Some of the comments made by the children tugged on the heartstrings as it felt like they were too young to be worrying about things like that.

The affect the closure would have on the local economy, how workers would be able to afford to buy food and pay rent if they were unemployed, all very real issues, but also adult issues that we try to shield children from.

Letter after letter, a well informed child pointed out issues that it felt like nobody in authority could see: "It would have an incredible effect on the local economy, skilled people would lose their jobs."

Though the letters went unanswered at the time, they serve as a poignant reminder of the innocent hurt by the closure of our beloved theatre, of a future in jeopardy but also of the hope that remains in the fight.

One girl concluded, as if she was writing to Santa: "Please consider keeping the Coliseum open, I promise to be good all year and not cause any trouble."

Well, if we could just have our theatre back, I think the whole of Oldham will promise to be good all year too!

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