HOLYBOURNE Theatre is bracing itself for a final push to raise the rest of the £90,000 needed to build an extension to its building on London Road.

A charitable organisation run by volunteers, for the past 10 years Holybourne Theatre has been raising funds for a two-phase project designed to meet an increasing demand for more space to facilitate and grow its popular youth theatre.

To date the organisation has raised £50,000 and, with planning permission in place, it is working hard to raise the additional £19,000 needed to start phase one of a 76 square metre extension which will square off the western side of the building and provide a new foyer area, along with dressing rooms and additional class, rehearsal, singing and dancing areas.

According to Holybourne Theatre spokesman Peter Stone, the additional space would enable the company to run several classes at a time – at present they are only able to run one class in the main auditorium.

Known during the Second World War as Fisher’s Camp, the area on which the theatre stands housed German prisoners of war who sought permission to convert one of their Nissen huts into a theatre.

Authorisation was granted and the soldiers worked hard to construct a raised stage and a raked auditorium.

After the war, in January 1948, residents formed Holybourne Dramatic Club, originally based at Andrews Endowed School, but moving in 1949 to the one remaining hut that housed the wartime theatre.

This they refurbished, using a loan of £160 for seating, curtains, carpets and lighting but few luxuries – the cast had to make-up and change in the wings. It opened in November 1950 with a performance of JB Priestly’s ‘Mystery at Greenfingers’ and in June 1960 the land was donated to the trustees of Holybourne Dramatic Club.

In 1961, the club raised the £8,000 needed for a new building, and 10 years later Sir Michael Redgrave opened the current theatre, which could seat 144 people and sported a large stage, dressing room, kitchen and toilets.

In recent years, the theatre has looked at various options to try to expand and update its offering, including a partnership deal with Alton Community Association, but none of these plans came to fruition.

Having recently funded a new roof and central heating, Holybourne Theatre has settled on the fact that it staying put and that to grow it needs to update, extend and modernise the existing building.

Mr Stone said: “Our building currently restricts us by its ageing design. The extension will help us to modernise the audience and youth theatre areas and, more importantly, expand the youth theatre numbers and make fun, affordable theatre available to more local children.

“Up to now, for shows, the youth theatre has been using an exterior timber cabin as a green toom and dressing room.

“The new dressing room areas will be integrated within the main theatre building to facilitate easier supervised access to the stage and audience areas, removing the need for young players to enter from outside and through all types of weather.”

Phase one of the project will include the ground works, foundations, concrete floor, new soil pipes and steel-framed building to provide a shell ready for the internal development provided by phase two.

Costing £21,000, this will comprise the installation of a new floor, youth theatre dressing rooms, modern toilets for audience use and disabled toilets, electrics and plumbing.

Mr Stone added: “We nearly have enough coffers in the bank to progress with the first phase of the build. The planning permission is in place and we are ready to press the go button as soon as we have enough guaranteed funds.

“The total project, including all the internals, is likely to cost in excess of £90,000, and we currently have £50,000 saved.”

To support the extension project, visit holybournetheatre.co.uk.