AMBITIOUS plans to create a learning centre at one of the country’s oldest theatres have moved a major step forward.

The Georgian Theatre Royal at Richmond is now seeking a development officer who will play a key role in taking the project forward.

It follows the announcement last month of a development grant of £121,600 towards the scheme from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is being added to £200,000 bequeathed by Paul Iles, who died last year at the age of 59, after more than ten years as associate director of the theatre.

The project aims to provide a unique opportunity for people of all ages to increase their knowledge, awareness and appreciation of theatre in the Georgian period and its social, geographical and historical context.

The total cost of the project is currently estimated at around £860,000 but its start will depend on a successful second stage application to the lottery fund by June next year.

Chief executive Warnock Kerr said: “The development officer will be required to produce the activity plan for the project as well as ensuring it is developed with the highest level of creativity and interpretation.

“This is an exciting opportunity to create a learning centre using the most up-to-date technology which will become a major attraction in North Yorkshire.”

Theatre trust chairman Malcolm Bryant added: “It is hard to overstate the potential positive impact of this development on the Georgian Theatre and Richmond.

“We have taken the first important steps towards a successful result and will give the development officer every support in his or her important work.”

The Georgian Theatre Royal was opened in 1788 by Samuel Butler and is the oldest theatre in the UK in its original form.

The scheme involves the creation of a space behind the stage to be used for exhibitions and receptions, and a new Samuel Butler Room above the existing studio, which will tell his story.

Also included will be the development of the youth theatre and outreach work with young people and the provision of a new archive store.

In addition, and with support from the relevant councils, the historic Friar’s Wynd that leads from the theatre to Richmond’s Market Place will be upgraded, with new and improved interpretation, lighting, and signage.