Theatre idea is more than a midsummer night’s dream

Geoff Ward wants to see an outdoor theatre served by a new footbridge from the Old Gaol to Nag’s Head Island.  Picture: OX66170 Damian Halliwell

Geoff Ward wants to see an outdoor theatre served by a new footbridge from the Old Gaol to Nag’s Head Island. Picture: OX66170 Damian Halliwell Buy this photo

First published in News Herald Series: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Abingdon and Wantage, South Oxford and Kennington. Call me on 01865 425431

PLANS for an island theatre and a new wooden bridge across the Thames have been unveiled in a bid to bring more culture to Abingdon.

The “Isis” project is to seek funding for a 33-metre pedestrian bridge from the Old Gaol to a 350-seat open-air theatre on Nag’s Head Island.

The £750,000 project is the idea of Liberal Democrat Vale of White Horse District Council member Richard Webber.

The team hopes to get £600,000 in grants from groups like the National Lottery and £150,000 from residents.

The open-air theatre would only be used in the summer and amateur groups and buskers would use it in the day.

The project would need planning permission from the council and would have a new restaurant on the first floor of the boat house.

The boat centre would also be redeveloped with a first-floor cafe and exhibition centre.

Young people and those out of work would be invited to take part.

Project spokesman Geoff Ward said: “Abingdon has a lot of great river front that is not used to its best potential. The town has turned its back on the river.”

He hopes the town, about halfway between Stratford-on-Avon and London, could become a new cultural centre.

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In 2012, Abingdon Town Council voted to rename the town Abingdon-on-Thames in a bid to attract more tourists.

Project manager Norman Guiver, who also designed Abingdon School’s Boat House, said: “The bridge will be iconic and a visitor attraction in its own right.”

It had interest from timber-framers in America and Europe who he hoped would build the bridge over three weeks in summer 2015.

Abingdon Town Council leader Sandy Lovatt said: “I like the idea but there is a whole lot of things to be sorted.

“We have got a fundamental problem getting the river opened up, and an open-air theatre lends itself to experimental stuff. But in order to get planning permission they would need a viable business plan, which is very hard to do.”

Jenny Berrell, curator at Abingdon’s 92-seat Unicorn theatre, said it was a “wonderful” idea.

She said: “I don’t think I am worried about competition. The Unicorn is quite different, we are a bijou little theatre and our biggest time is winter because it is warm inside and comfortable.

“But one of the biggest problems we have is parking.”

  • For more, see isisabingdon.co.uk

Comments (5)

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4:43pm Thu 27 Mar 14

yabbadabbadoo256 says...

Abingdon already has a perfectly decent theatre running excellent shows throughout the year. Its called the Unicorn Theatre in the Abbey.

What Abingdon needs is a decent CINEMA
Abingdon already has a perfectly decent theatre running excellent shows throughout the year. Its called the Unicorn Theatre in the Abbey. What Abingdon needs is a decent CINEMA yabbadabbadoo256
  • Score: 2

8:12am Fri 28 Mar 14

horsham says...

It is not the town that has turned it's back on the river, it is the useless Vale of White Horse who has no vision for this town. The Old Gaol was a great opportunity to offer riverside culture and entertainment but they decided to take the money with the apartments development - no surprise as they have no interest in the art, theatre, galleries, live music etc.

The forthcoming 'Head of the River' rowing event will demonstrate a huge public interest in the the river, sport and entertainment.

I hope this venture gets off the ground, good luck.
It is not the town that has turned it's back on the river, it is the useless Vale of White Horse who has no vision for this town. The Old Gaol was a great opportunity to offer riverside culture and entertainment but they decided to take the money with the apartments development - no surprise as they have no interest in the art, theatre, galleries, live music etc. The forthcoming 'Head of the River' rowing event will demonstrate a huge public interest in the the river, sport and entertainment. I hope this venture gets off the ground, good luck. horsham
  • Score: 1

1:55pm Fri 28 Mar 14

the ock says...

How far is it to walk from the current entrance/exit for the gaol to the entrance to that side of the island? I reckon a full 90 seconds but I'm happy to be wrong, might be an exhausting two minutes and oh my goodness you have to cross the road and everything.

All for attracting visitors to the town, a second theatre is a great idea and that boat yard area could do with a lick of paint or three but surely the bridge is a waste of money if it is publicly funded, National Lottery or not. Pot holes and terrible road surfaces first please. If privately someone wants to pay for it then I guess who cares. Not sure as a resident I'll contribute to a fund for a bridge that saves people 30 seconds walking time however fetching it might look.

Oh and, 'Iconic'. Really? Seriously, 'Iconic'? Wish people would stop regurgitating Radio 5 Live.
How far is it to walk from the current entrance/exit for the gaol to the entrance to that side of the island? I reckon a full 90 seconds but I'm happy to be wrong, might be an exhausting two minutes and oh my goodness you have to cross the road and everything. All for attracting visitors to the town, a second theatre is a great idea and that boat yard area could do with a lick of paint or three but surely the bridge is a waste of money if it is publicly funded, National Lottery or not. Pot holes and terrible road surfaces first please. If privately someone wants to pay for it then I guess who cares. Not sure as a resident I'll contribute to a fund for a bridge that saves people 30 seconds walking time however fetching it might look. Oh and, 'Iconic'. Really? Seriously, 'Iconic'? Wish people would stop regurgitating Radio 5 Live. the ock
  • Score: 1

7:49pm Fri 28 Mar 14

jonody says...

Interesting idea but badly proposed.

"Isis" generally refers to the river in Oxford, not the river in Abingdon. (the only source to claim otherwise is apparently the ordnance survey)

Development of the boatyard would be awesome, however this is already one of the best boatyards on the river between Reading and Lechlade, including Oxford. The staff are great and they bring thousands of people onto the river each year in the summer.

"Young people and those out of work would be invited to take part. " = the project will not generate employment and depends on unspecified volunteer labourers, see also "The team hopes to get £150,000 from residents."

"The town has turned its back on the river.” What??? You obviously weren't there when David Walliams swam through,mate, you couldn't move on the riverbank. Take a walk down to Abbey Meadow Gardens any summer's day. Just last week we heard Abingdon Walking Tours on the radio telling us how brilliant it is. I work on boats and a lot of my friends live on the river. Oxfordshire is like a desert for boating services and Abingdon is like a brilliant oasis in the middle of that desert. Thousands of visitors moor up in the summer and enjoy the town. What a joke!

And another thing! Abingdon, having turned it's back on the river has just renamed itself 'Abingdon-on-Thames'
. How's that for having turned it's back on the river???

So no planning permission, no funding, unspecified volunteer labour and yet we already have a Project Spokesman and a Project Manager. Who exactly is paying these people's wages??? I seriously hope it's not VOWH.

You don't need to bring culture to Abingdon, it's already here. You don't need to develop the river, it's already fantastic. A new bridge wouldn't go amiss but think more like Saxton Road to Andersey Island, if you really want to open the River up to locals.

Richard Webber be ashamed.
Interesting idea but badly proposed. "Isis" generally refers to the river in Oxford, not the river in Abingdon. (the only source to claim otherwise is apparently the ordnance survey) Development of the boatyard would be awesome, however this is already one of the best boatyards on the river between Reading and Lechlade, including Oxford. The staff are great and they bring thousands of people onto the river each year in the summer. "Young people and those out of work would be invited to take part. " = the project will not generate employment and depends on unspecified volunteer labourers, see also "The team hopes to get £150,000 from residents." "The town has turned its back on the river.” What??? You obviously weren't there when David Walliams swam through,mate, you couldn't move on the riverbank. Take a walk down to Abbey Meadow Gardens any summer's day. Just last week we heard Abingdon Walking Tours on the radio telling us how brilliant it is. I work on boats and a lot of my friends live on the river. Oxfordshire is like a desert for boating services and Abingdon is like a brilliant oasis in the middle of that desert. Thousands of visitors moor up in the summer and enjoy the town. What a joke! And another thing! Abingdon, having turned it's back on the river has just renamed itself 'Abingdon-on-Thames' . How's that for having turned it's back on the river??? So no planning permission, no funding, unspecified volunteer labour and yet we already have a Project Spokesman and a Project Manager. Who exactly is paying these people's wages??? I seriously hope it's not VOWH. You don't need to bring culture to Abingdon, it's already here. You don't need to develop the river, it's already fantastic. A new bridge wouldn't go amiss but think more like Saxton Road to Andersey Island, if you really want to open the River up to locals. Richard Webber be ashamed. jonody
  • Score: 0

8:30am Sat 29 Mar 14

thegadfly says...

I echo your sentiments exactly Jonody, why ruin the beautiful Nags Island for the sake of a few "arty's) if councilor Weber really thinks this is viable why doesn't he and his fellow woolly jumpers hire a stage and blocks of seating and do a couple of trial runs in the Abbey Grounds first?
As for the bridge? Abingdon does need another and Wilsham Rd would be an ideal location along with one linking Abbey grounds to Rye meadows, near the swimming pool.
I echo your sentiments exactly Jonody, why ruin the beautiful Nags Island for the sake of a few "arty's) if councilor Weber really thinks this is viable why doesn't he and his fellow woolly jumpers hire a stage and blocks of seating and do a couple of trial runs in the Abbey Grounds first? As for the bridge? Abingdon does need another and Wilsham Rd would be an ideal location along with one linking Abbey grounds to Rye meadows, near the swimming pool. thegadfly
  • Score: 0

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