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  • The-Octagon-Theatre-Investing-In-A-Flagship-Venue-For-The-Arts-And-Entertainment-In-Somerset

The Octagon Theatre: Investing in a flagship venue for the arts and entertainment in Somerset

posted 26 Aug 2021
A picture of the Octagon seats from above the stage

The development of The Octagon Theatre is moving forward with support from Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and in principle funding agreed from Yeovil Town Council.

A revised Outline Business Case relating to the Octagon Theatre has been developed and submitted to DCMS, seeking funding support for a revised development project costing in the region of £15 million. DCMS have provided support to the Council concerning how to further develop our plans that will see a smaller scale development of the venue with a full refurbishment and improvements to:

  • Accessibility
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Audience experience
  • Technical capability and backstage areas

Any further support from DCMS is subject to a full business plan being submitted in the autumn of 2024.


- The Stage Is Set
- Improving The Theatre
- A New Vision For Our Programme
- Unleashing Creativity Across Somerset
- Funding The Project
Project Timeline
Your Questions Answered
- Fundraising
- Contact Us

The Stage Is Set…

In 1974 The Octagon Theatre (then known as The Johnson Hall) opened its doors and has been entertaining audiences from Somerset and beyond ever since. Millions of people have been entertained in our theatre and each year we present a diverse range of artists and events, from big name comedians, classical music and opera to rock and folk music, the very best in variety as well as superb plays and ballets, and not forgetting our yearly blockbuster pantomime. As we celebrate 50 years of the theatre in 2024, it is time to build on our success and plan for how the theatre can serve our future audiences and continue attracting the very best in performing arts and entertainment to Somerset.


Image Above: Each dot represents a customer who made a booking for an event at The Octagon Theatre or Westlands Entertainment Venue that took place from 1st April 2022 - 30th March 2023.

Before closure in May 2023, The Octagon Theatre achieved an average of 83% capacity throughout the year with upwards of 250 performances staged annually. The theatre is popular with artists and producers, who appreciate the friendly welcome from our technicians along with our warm and responsive audiences. Audience numbers increased dramatically before the 2020 coronavirus pandemic (from 78,546 in 2009/10 to 125,331 in 2019/20) and, put simply, we have outgrown our current facilities and the record usage is taking its toll on the 50-year-old building.

The Octagon Theatre remains one of the most popular theatres in the South West with a loyal and enthusiastic audience, a passionate volunteer base in The Foyer Club and talented team who are devoted to the venue. Somerset deserves a better venue and The Octagon Theatre is well placed geographically to serve the South West with the organisation having the financial track record and robust plan to develop the theatre for the next 50 years and beyond.

The stage is set for the next chapter in the history of The Octagon Theatre; as we move forward to raise aspirations, provide residents with a venue that will provide an economic boost for the area, bring new artists and companies to Somerset and provide exciting new opportunities for residents to engage. The Octagon Theatre development is not only about the redevelopment of a building - it's also about reaching out into the community to improve access to the arts. In recent years the UK has seen an increase in the use of cultural initiatives to address socioeconomic problems, ranging from major capital projects to local participatory initiatives. The use of culture to refresh neighbourhoods, improve the physical environment, offering places to go and things to do, increasing local pride, and building stronger communities has been taking place for many years. Live performance has proven to be an incredibly effective way of educating, inspiring and encouraging people of all ages to aspire for a better tomorrow and the development of The Octagon Theatre demonstrates a firm commitment to this belief.

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Improving The Theatre...

Whilst the full business plan is being developed ready to be submitted to DCMS in autumn of 2024, we know there are key areas of improvement that need to happen at the venue. It’s not cost-effective to just keep patching the theatre up and the investment in the building will ensure the venue is compliant, safe and able maintain the audience levels. The smaller scale redevelopment will focus on a full refurbishment and improvements to:


The Octagon is not accessible for those with access needs, both front of house and particularly backstage. Vast improvements will enable more members of the public to be able to use the venue and enable performers who need assistance onto the stage to do so in a safe and dignified manner.

Environmental sustainability

Increasing our environmental sustainability is key to ensuring the longevity of the venue. Times have moved on, and the venue has stood still using old systems to heat and cool the building for example. Improvements will ensure the building is sustainable in the short and long term that will support the wellbeing of current and future generations.

Audience experience

A full refurbishment of the building, including all communal areas, dining area, bars, toilets and the auditorium will give a much better experience when coming to enjoy performances and shows. The venue is in much need of a refurbishment that will modernise the offering but still give that traditional theatre feel, better yet - Octagon feel, that you are so used to.

Technical capability and backstage areas

Consideration is being given to improving the technical capability and staging area that will enable larger touring companies to visit the venue, in turn bringing a new diverse range of shows to Yeovil. Along with these improvements, we will seek to improve the backstage areas for our performers and technical team.

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A Vision For Our Programme…

Our aim with the programme in our auditorium is to offer ‘something for everyone’ with an exciting and diverse programme of cutting edge and leading arts companies, the very best entertainment and a celebration of local talent. The developed auditorium will allow us to ‘step up’ our programming and enhance popular favourites.

Snow White, Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story, Craig Revel Horwood

Images Above (left to right): Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs,
Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story & Craig Revel Horwood


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Unleashing Creativity Across Somerset…

We recognise the ability of the arts to transform lives, raise aspirations, improve education and help lift people out of poverty. When it comes to making Somerset a better place to live, work and visit we recognise the arts have a vital role to play in achieving an improved standard of well-being. We are passionate about working with and for our community and are committed to finding innovative ways to encourage participation in the arts.

The Octagon Theatre has been given National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status by Arts Council England which sees an investment of £760,000 to support arts and cultural activities in the area over the next three years until 2026.

By becoming an NPO we will be able to provide more opportunities for our communities to watch, take part and benefit from arts and cultural activities.

The NPO investment will support our Arts Engagement & Outreach team to grow, develop and deliver programmes and activities that benefit health and wellbeing, enrich learning and education in and outside school, inspire and celebrate talent. Creating work that will support local artists and tell “local stories”. Our work will seek to improve inclusion and remove barriers, whatever they may be, so that everyone is able to enjoy and benefit from the creative arts.

Our beautiful county is a great place to live but we recognise the issues our communities face and key issues surrounding rural isolation, areas of disadvantage, to challenges around mental health and an ageing population. Our activities will seek to positively contribute to and alleviate these issues, with more opportunities for residents to interact with the creative arts from within our venues and in community locations throughout the district.

As part of our NPO funding that will help unleash creativity across Somerset, the plan will have key themes of delivery:

Arts for Health & Wellbeing: Working with NHS trusts and voluntary services, we will develop creative activities that deliver emotional and physical support to people with mental and long-term health conditions. We aim to establish regular specialist support-led sessions in community settings across South Somerset that will support treatment, recovery and long-term wellbeing.

Creative Learning & Education: Between 2023-2026 our target is to work with a minimum 32 primary and secondary schools, reaching students from rural and deprived areas to ensure children have the opportunity to be inspired by the arts.

Participation: There are three elements to our participatory programme with delivery of regular activity in community locations and our venues, targeted workshops, and high-quality enrichment opportunities with amazing artists and companies.

Programme Development & Commissioning: To reach audiences outside our venues we will look to produce a community production, project commissions to celebrate Somerset’s cultural heritage, and free to watch performances out across the district.

Talent & Workforce Development: We have planned projects to support young people, emerging and established artists fulfil their potential and sustain creative careers here in Somerset.

Access & Inclusion Schemes: With a focus on improving access in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis our priority will be to launch an Accessible Pricing Scheme and Access Fund, enabling people from low-income households the opportunity to attend shows and workshops at no or heavily discounted cost.

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Funding The Project...

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are supporting Somerset Council (who will deliver the project) with regards to further developing plans that will see the smaller scale development of The Octagon. Any further financial support / commitment from DCMS is subject to a full business plan being submitted in autumn 2025.

Yeovil Town Council have confirmed their grant support in principle (subject to financial agreement / checks) to the project after the Council voted through a motion to work in partnership with Somerset to ensure the Future of the Octagon Theatre project.

Additional funds including fundraising contributions through the Foyer Club Charity, grant funding, sponsorship and donations will continue to be sought to support the development. It is estimated that a revised development project would cost in the region of £15 million which would all be funded through the above revenue streams.

Somersrt Council continues to manage and deliver the project to develop the Octagon Theatre working with funding partners to secure the development. Once complete, the building will be handed over to Yeovil Town Council to own and manage in the future.

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Project Timeline...

In October 2023, Somerset Council’s Executive Committee discussed the redevelopment plans for the Octagon Theatre in light of rising interest rates. The original business case would have seen over £30 million invested in the venue with borrowing of £16.318 million which would have been repaid, plus interest, by users of the venue through ticket sales and the ticket levy. Following consideration of the officer report, appendices and discission, the Executive decided to acknowledge that the current business case could no longer be met and a revised business case would be necessary.

Since October 2023, officers have been working with DCMS and Arts Council England to find a viable business case to deliver cultural services in Yeovil for Somerset. A concept business case was presented to DCMS in early 2024 seeking financial support from the original £10 million that was ringfenced for the redevelopment of the initial business case.

Any further financial support / commitment from DCMS is subject to a full business plan being submitted in autumn 2025.

The project team are currently developing the full business plan and are seeking to work with a design team. once initial plans have been developed, they will be shared with the public.

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Your Questions Answered...

Why has the original redevelopment plans not been delivered?

The original redevelopment plans would have seen over £30 million invested in The Octagon. £16.318 million of the funds would have had to have been borrowed by Somerset Council to deliver the full project. In October 2023, Somerset Council’s Executive Committee discussed the redevelopment plans in light of rising interest rates. Following consideration of the officer report, appendices and discission, the Executive decided to acknowledge that the current business case could no longer be met and a revised business case would be necessary.

The Executive Committee did however confirm its commitment to the Octagon project as a flagship venue to deliver arts and culture services in Yeovil for Somerset and instructed officers to continue work with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England to find a viable Octagon business case to deliver these services.

Why can The Octagon not reopen until work starts?

The venue has been closed since May 2023 and some of the building was already in disrepair that was not visible to the public e.g. back stage areas, heating and cooling system. When the building was closed, it was necessary to make holes in the walls to survey the building for asbestos. With the building being closed for such a period of time, damp has also now set into areas such as the stage. To put right what is currently wrong with the building would cost a vast amount of money to the taxpayer.

Some would question whether closing the building before a contractor was appointed was needed. We needed to get to a point where our seasonal programme came to an end and we had time to remove the contents from the building before work started – this took approximately 4 months to empty the building whilst also operating Westlands Entertainment Venue at the same time. To book shows and then sell them can take time, so to simply reopen is not easily done from a programming point of view as well.

Will you be creating additional parking for the additional footfall?

The Octagon Theatre is fortunate to be located next to one of the largest car parks in Yeovil Town Centre (Petters Way) and we know many of our customers will visit the theatre by car. There are currently times through the year (particularly over Christmas or community shows with larger casts) where Petters Way car park will be full and customers need to use alternative car parks like Goldenstones, West Hendford or Stars Lane.

Within a five-minute walk of the theatre (400m), there are a total of 725 public parking spaces and within a ten-minute walk (800m), there are 1,358 spaces. Our priority is for disabled parking within close proximity to the theatre, so there will be an increase in the number of disabled parking bays in Petters Way with level access to the theatre. There will also be disabled parking bays adjacent to the theatre that can be booked with priority for disabled customers (a popular service that is currently in place).

We will ensure our communications clearly advise customers of the different car parks that are close to the theatre so to make their visit as enjoyable and stress free as possible. We will also be working to encourage customers to use public transport or more sustainable methods of transport with charging for electric vehicles.

What about Westlands Entertainment Venue?

We are very fortunate in Yeovil to have two great entertainment venues. The team who manage The Octagon Theatre took on the management of Westlands Entertainment Venue following its refurbishment in 2016. Westlands is home to a beautiful ballroom which is a flexible space that can be used for banqueting, parties, conferencing, trade fairs, standing gigs and live performances (seating 870). The venue has meeting and function rooms which are used for both smaller regular events and larger scale events, like Yeovil Beer & Cider Festival. Having a joint management team means that the programme and activities complement each other.

We are lucky that we are able to move many shows and activities to Westlands Entertainment Venue, allowing us to retain our audiences and continue providing excellent entertainment in Somerset. Westlands is a superb multi-purpose venue but it will never be a theatre, as the venue lacks the stage size and backstage facilities to present large, technically challenging shows. The redevelopment will see both venues play to their strengths and we believe that both venues can host a diverse programme and offer an exceptional programme of performances, events and activities that will make Yeovil the destination for culture and entertainment.

When will work start and when do you expect it to be completed?

When we have a better understanding of the scope of the work to be completed, we will be in a better position to set a date for works to commence. It is currently anticipated that work will be completed in the winter of 2026 however this will be dependent on when work commences and what needs to be done.

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Fundraising has also been a key way of helping to fund the Octagon redevelopment and we continue to do all we can raise funds. Castaway Theatre Group joined some of our staff for a sponsored 24- hour sleepover at the venue with half the proceeds going to the group and the other half going towards the redevelopment. We also welcomed comedian/ventriloquist Paul Zerdin for a performance, with all ticket proceeds being donated to our Name A Seat campaign. Paul is a patron of our Name A Seat initiative and all money from the campaign is going towards the development of the theatre.

All fundraising proceeds go direct to The Foyer Club Charity who are collecting funds for the development.

You can get involved now with our ‘Name A Seat’ campaign whereby from £150, you can have a personalised plaque on a seat within our new auditorium. Contributing now means that you will be placed on our priority list and contacted to choose a seat for your plaque once the seating plan has been designed. Visit Name A Seat page on the website for more information

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Contact Us...

We invite you to be part of the conversation and thank you for taking the time to read this information. We hope you found it interesting, exciting and helpful. You can contact us in the following ways:

Email us: octagontheatre@somerset.gov.uk
Write to us: The Octagon Theatre, Hendford, Yeovil, Somerset BA20 1UX
Engage with us via social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube

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