The long wait will soon be over for Wigan’s very own purpose-built performance venue.
For most of the 20th century, it had as many theatres and concert halls as anywhere else in the country of a similar size.
But they gradually all closed, some being demolished, and for years Wigan has been one of the biggest towns in the country without a custom-made building for music, comedy and other entertainment.
But at last a performance venue is being constructed which will be able to host a range of events.
The 1,000-seat venue is being built by Today’s Community Church at its newly-named site The Edge, on Southgate in Wigan.
It has cost £4m - with a large chunk donated by members of the church and the rest from private funding - and is expected to open its doors in May or June.
Dave Belfield, senior leader of the church and director of the project, said: “We see this as our gift to the town. Essentially the church is building it, but the church is the Wigan people.
“Wigan needs a venue. There were plans for a venue and it never happened, so we have built it.”
The project started with the refurbishment of the main church building, which was previously the Mitco Pek tarpaulin factory.
It was given a complete makeover and includes a host of modern facilities, including conference halls, seminar rooms and an independent coffee shop.
Building work started on the performance venue in May and is well under way, with the project expected to be completed in the next three months.
Mr Belfield describes the venue as “a contemporary building, modern and functional”.
While the main hall is enclosed of course, sunlight pours into the foyer due to large windows.
Once it opens its doors, the venue will have 1,000 seats, a stage, lighting rig, PA system and backstage facilities, as well as offices.
The seats will not be fixed, so they can be removed if they are not needed, and the venue has been designed to be versatile.
The hall will be used as a place of worship for members of Today’s Community Church, who are currently based in a smaller room in the original building.
But it will also be used by the public and could house all kinds of events - concerts, comedy shows, plays, exhibitions and car shows, for example.
Mr Belfield said: “We have done a deal with Wigan Council for usage. I expect they are looking at things like the jazz festival and Wigan Business Expo. We are working with them as far as some of the things they will want to have here. They will have so many uses per annum.
“Plus we will do our own stuff in there and it will be available for concerts and entertainment stuff. By the nature of how we have designed it and how it’s built, we can have motor shows here. It’s a multi-functional venue and a place of worship.”
Mr Belfield said he had already had “lots of phone calls” from people interested in using the venue, along with people who want to find out about the project.
“We have got a lot of interest from around the country, even from church communities that want to do something similar.”
He has spoken to theatre groups as well as promoters for bands, who he says could be interested in performing in Wigan between tour dates at larger venues in Manchester or Liverpool.
And well-known names from years gone by could also appear there.
Mr Belfield said: “We are even talking to promoters who know a lot of the older bands from the 80s.”
The venue offers a world of possibilities - and Mr Belfield believes it is something the borough desperately needs.
He took the idea to the church community in 2008, after council plans for a performance venue failed to get off the ground, and received a positive response.
Mr Belfield said: “There isn’t anywhere else that can hold more than a few hundred people. The town’s crying out for it. It’s desperate for a venue that can facilitate lots of different activities, whatever that is.
“I think it’s essential that a town that’s on the map like ours, with a history like ours, has something that reflects that with a venue.
“It’s a big step for us to do this, it’s been a massive thing and the people have put their hands in their pockets to make it happen.”
To find out more about the venue, call business manager Annette Burton on 01942 244460.