Famous faces rally around Manchester theatre after it misses out on funding

Daisy Jackson Daisy Jackson - 17th May 2022

One of Manchester’s leading independent theatres has been left devastated after missing out on ‘much-needed’ funding.

53two, a theatre and arts hub beneath the railway arches in the city centre, had applied for Arts Council funding, but its bid was rejected.

The government-funded body said that it had to make ‘tough decisions’ after receiving a huge number of applications.

53two had hoped to use the fund to build a disabled access facility known as a Changing Places toilet – something that no theatre in Manchester currently has.

Creative director Simon Naylor said it’s ‘heartbreaking’ to see theatre-goers with complex access needs having to go home due to a lack of accessible facilities in the city.

Credit: Fiona Finchett

The Watson Street venue is now planning a party to drum up some support and some investment so that it continue to build its fully accessible creative space.

Theatre patron Tony Walsh (better known to many as Longfella), will be working with the venue to find a local business to invest in the project.


The theatre only opened in its new home last year, in the Grade II*-listed railway arches and tunnels beneath Manchester Central.

They have already opened a bustling bar and cafe space and secured the planning permission to upgrade the theatre to a 150-seat facility, and install the toilet facilities.

Simon Naylor, creative director of 53two, said that it was ‘terrible’ to miss out on the Arts Council funding – but that the team are now rallying and taking matters into their own hands.

The vision for 53two’s new 150-seat theatre. Credit: Supplied

He said: “Obviously it was a terrible email to read, but, we sat on it, re-grouped and it was clear that we had to press on regardless of the bid outcome.

“We have already helped produce quality theatre in our small venue, and are continuing to support those artists who need a platform. We have a season of brand new writing lined up including the return of a much loved Manchester institution, loved by many but yet to be announced.

“We have no choice but to take matters into our own hands and are now looking to Manchester’s business community to help us raise the funds needed.”

Speaking of the importance of a specialist Changing Places toilet, Simon continued: “Many of our guests, artists and visitors have complex access needs and can only stay at the venue if we have fully accessible toilet facilities.

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“The Changing Places toilet would provide a changing bed, a hoist and lots of space and privacy for carers to help people with using the toilet. Without it many have to leave the venue and go home which is heart breaking to see happen time and time again.

“So, to celebrate our first year anniversary on 27 May, we are inviting people from across Manchester, including those visionaries and giants who we are hoping can provide the financial support we need to grow the venue and create the facilities our patrons require.

“We are offering companies the naming rights for the auditorium for up to the next five years, in return for the investment required to get the theatre space up to spec.”

Coronation Street star, BAFTA winner and TripleC founder Cherylee Houston added her support to the fund-raising drive, saying: “53two is an incredibly important venture for creatives across Manchester.

“Not only did they design their building so far to be entirely step free they actively ensure they include disabled creatives across their work. They are an accessible venue that is warm and welcoming and ensure that all disabled creatives continually feel part of their phenomena programme of work.”


The party on 27 May will feature live music from The Villanelles, a DJ set and hosting from Tom Finkill, a routine from International Wheelchair Dance Champion Monique Jarrett, and a reading from Tony Walsh himself.

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Alexandra Maxwell, venue manager, said: “It’s been a rollercoaster of a year dealing with the challenges of a new business and the ever-changing climate in hospitality. That said, our community was well established at our old venue and their support has been incredible.

“By January 2022 we felt positive that we could start the next chapter of our journey and open up the second arch in its entirety, however the Arts Council’s surprising response and has driven us to try to raise the funds in a different way.”

A spokesperson for Arts Council England said: “Demand for the Capital Investment Programme was extremely high and we received a large number of both Expressions of Interest and applications.


“We had to make tough decisions, but we awarded funding to applications that most closely meet the criteria and made the strongest contribution to the aims of the programme.

“In 2020 53Two was awarded £61,116 through the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund which supported cultural organisations through the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and we would welcome applications from the organisation to other Arts Council funding programmes in the future.”

If you’re interested in attending the evening or for more information on the Sponsorship Package, please contact Simon on [email protected]

To donate to 53two, visit

Featured image: Fiona Finchett