RENOVATION work at two County Durham theatres has been completed ahead of the reopening of both venues.

Durham County Council has upgraded the Gala Theatre, in Durham, and the Empire Theatre, in Consett, which will both welcome audiences once again from Monday.

At the Empire, £823,000 has been spent on the auditorium, toilets, and front of house area, as well as a new stage and technical equipment.

Although no longer in operation, local group Friends of Empire donated £11,500 from leftover memberships and donations to help towards the purchase of furniture and a new counter front.

Meanwhile, the Gala Theatre in Durham has had a £600,000 refurbishment, fitted with new flooring and seating in the auditorium, as well as a new-look box office, display screens, signage and furniture.

Councillor Elizabeth Scott, the council’s cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “We’re delighted to have our two main theatres open once again and with it be able to welcome visitors with a brand-new look.

“Reopening our theatres is a key part of our commitment to cultural-led regeneration.

“Creative industries contributed more than £116 billion to the UK economy in 2019, and the arts are set to play a crucial role in the county’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.”

Both venues will reopen with a brand-new menu for their respective cafes, with food being served from 9.30am to 5.30pm at the Gala Theatre, and from 10am to 3pm at the Empire Theatre.

The reopening of the theatres has been carefully planned in line with guidance from Step 3 of the government’s roadmap and are not affected by the announcement to delay Step 4.

A small selection of socially distanced live performances will commence at Gala Theatre from Friday 9 July with the production of Damned United.

All screenings are being sold in advance to ensure social distancing in the auditorium and seats will be allocated to ensure a safe distance between groups.

Cllr Scott said: “By welcoming visitors back to the Gala and Empire theatres, we can help support the recovery of local businesses, especially the hospitality and retail sector, which have been hit hard by the pandemic.”