A BIGGER-than-expected Lottery grant has helped secure the future of one of the region's theatrical gems.

The Heritage Lottery Fund had already pledged a provisional £575,000 towards the restoration of The Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, North Yorkshire - on the condition the project won planners' approval and an equal amount of money was raised through other sources.

However, with Richmondshire District Council's support confirmed in the summer and a fund-raising campaign closing on the £1.1m target, Lottery chiefs have not only confirmed their contribution but increased the grant to £668,000.

The news means restoration work will begin next month, with Theatre Royal productions moved to the Zetland Christian Community Centre on the town's Victoria Road while contractors are on site.

Chairman of the theatre's trustees, Lady Crathorne, said: "This wonderful news means the exciting development for the theatre and Richmond should move ahead as planned.

"The theatre will close in January and re-open in spring 2003. We are very grateful to everyone who has worked so hard to get us to this stage and we look forward to their continuing support during the progress of the project."

The theatre hosted a fund-raising performance by the Carol Andrew Singers at the weekend, followed by a Grand Prize Draw, which also raised an estimated £5,000 towards the appeal.

The top prize of a car, donated by Vauxhall dealers, Sherwood's of Darlington, was won by Sandra and Robert Kreutzer-Brett of Grewelthorpe, near Ripon.

An application has also been made for further funding from Brussels with the outcome expected early in the new year.

Experts have already examined the theatre to help management decide the best way to ensure work carried out adds to the authenticity of the auditorium as well as the stage area and dressing rooms.

However, a large slice of the cash will also pay for a new extension, including a lift, improved access for the disabled, new toilets as well as a glass-fronted bar and coffee house overlooking the town's Friary Gardens.

Read more about this campaign here.