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A new centre celebrating one of Newcastle-under-Lyme’s most famous sons is moving forward.

A small ceremony marked the handover of the keys to the building on Merrial Street, which will become the base for the Astley Centre for Circus & Performing Arts.

Commemorating Philip Astley, the man regarded as the father of the modern circus, the empty building owned by the council has been renovated using Government funding and will house a museum, research centre and a training and teaching facility.

The Astley Centre will be run by a Community Interest Company (CIC) and will not be subsidised by the Borough Council.

Andrew Van Buren, Director of the Philip Astley Project CIC, said:

“We are looking forward to unveiling this newly transformed premises, a place for amazing things to happen.

“The Philip Astley Centre will help generate extra footfall for the town, plus a renewed vibrancy within the town centre.”

Philip Astley was born in Newcastle in 1700s, the son of a cabinet maker, and after a military career became known for his ‘trick’ horse riding.

Having opened a riding school in London in 1769, Astley began performing equestrian shows for the public, which expanded into performances featuring clowns, tightrope walkers, jugglers and dancing dogs.

Fellow CIC director, Arthur Barnard added:

“Receiving the keys to the Merrial Street premises is a major step on our journey to bring the Philip Astley centre to fruition.

“We are grateful to the team at the council who have helped us realise our dream and we look forward to sharing our excitement with all members of the local community.”

Funding for the project comes from the Borough Council’s successful £23.6 million Newcastle Town Deal bid, which also includes reviving the ‘Zanzibar’ gateway to the town centre on Brunswick Street and bringing Keele University into the town centre to promote digital learning.

Simon Tagg, Leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, attended the event and said:

“The Astley Centre for Circus & Performing Arts is a distinctive project which not only celebrates the life of one of Newcastle’s most interesting sons, but is full of potential for the future.”


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