The English National Opera (ENO) is to move to Manchester under plans announced by Arts Council England (ACE) which made the organisation’s future funding contingent on establishing its main base outside London.
The ENO was initially given until 2026 to move its headquarters outside the capital, where it is currently based at the London Coliseum, or lose its ACE funding of around £13m PA. Under a revised plan put forward in July, it now has until 2029 to complete the move, as well as a £24m funding promise for three years from 2024, instead of an initial £17m.
The decision came after the Arts Council was instructed by the government to spread more money beyond the capital, although it will still continue to own, manage and programme at the Coliseum under its “reimagined” business model.
A shortlist of five possible locations was announced in May – Birmingham, Bristol, Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Nottingham.
The move has not been without its opponents. Performers union Equity has claimed that a survey of its members working at the ENO showed more than two-thirds would quit the company – and the profession – if it left London. The union blamed this on caring responsibilities, partners working, or children going to school in the capital, rather than abject horror at the prospect of living outside the M25.
The London Assembly also formally objected to the relocation outside of the capital over the summer.
Jenny Mollica, chief executive officer (interim), English National Opera said: “ENO is delighted to confirm the start of our new partnership with Greater Manchester from today. As we continue to transition through significant change, today’s announcement marks an importantand defining moment for our remarkable company. This future direction will see us continue to expand our role as a national institution – supporting our mission to create work with and for even more audiences across the country, alongside our annual season at the London Coliseum.
“Throughout our discussions with partners and stakeholders in Greater Manchester, we have been struck by an emerging vision for the future of ENO and operatic work in the city-region, defined by a shared ambition to open up new possibilities for opera in people’s lives. We look forward to embarking on new adventures with partners, artists and audiences across Greater Manchester as we create a range of operatic repertoire at a local, national and international scale, inspired by the extraordinary cultural vibrancy of Greater Manchester and its communities.
We hugely appreciate the generosity, enthusiasm and time given throughout this robust process by all the cities involved, and are heartened by the warmth and openness we have received from Greater Manchester’s cultural sector and city-region leaders as we look ahead to a bright shared future together.”
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, added: “The ENO is one of the most exciting cultural institutions in the country, and we’re immensely proud to be able to bring them to a new home here in Greater Manchester.
“We’ve worked closely with them to set out a shared vision for a future in our city-region, where they can continue making groundbreaking opera, foster new collaborations with artists across the North, and bring their award-winning learning and wellbeing programmes to communities here.
“Greater Manchester’s world-renowned history of radical art, activism, and affecting change, and the cultural renaissance taking place across our towns and cities, makes it the ideal home for the ENO. We can’t wait to welcome them and see where this new partnership takes us.”
The ENO has said it will not establish a permanent physical home in Manchester, but will instead perform “in a variety of venues across the Greater Manchester city-region,” with The Lowry and Aviva Studios suggested as likely candidates.
Prolific North also understands, although it is not yet confirmed, that the ENO will host events at Gorton Monastery in the City of Manchester. The 19th century monastery had laid unused for several years when it was acquired from receivers for £1 by a charitable trust, the Monastery of St Francis and Gorton Trust, after its previous developer owner entered administration.
The trustees then embarked on a long campaign to raise funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and European Regional Development Fund to restore the historic building. An initial proposal for an arts centre was deemed too uncommercial, then a second bid for a hotel and conference centre was rejected as being too commercial. A third bid for an events and wedding venue was finally accepted, and funding secured in 2003.
The £6m restoration of the monastery was completed in 2007, with further restoration of altars and floor tiles and the construction of a new Welcome Wing taking place in 2016. Since 2021 the monastery has also been home to the Manchester Camerata Chamber Orchestra.
The ENO reported total income reached £33.7m in the financial year ending 31 July 2022, an increase of £13.6m from the previous year, although its current Coliseum home was only open for six weeks in the previous financial year due to covid restrictions.
The charity’s total expenditure also increased by 37.7 per cent to £35m over the same period. The biggest increase was in spending on charitable activities, which rose by more than £12m to £33.4m, largely due to costs associated with running the Coliseum. The ENO said that in 2021/22, it staged seven operas, four new productions and three revivals at the theatre.
Lucy Frazer, Secretary of State, Department of Culture, Media and Sport, said: “The English National Opera is a treasured national institution and I am pleased that people across Greater Manchester, the North West and beyond will be able to enjoy their captivating performances more easily.
“I look forward to seeing the exciting new developments in the English National Opera’s journey as they build on this new partnership, level up access to opera up and down the country and create more opportunities for the young people across the North to explore their creative talent.”