Former Chairman of the Board, David Shortland, is stepping down from all formal roles at the Belgrade Theatre. Find out more about his time with us over the last 20 years.
This summer, David Shortland is stepping back from his roles at the Belgrade Theatre, but stays on as an Honorary Ambassador.
Having made a vital contribution to the regeneration and redevelopment of the Belgrade, David’s service has overseen a period of impressive growth for the Theatre.
We recently chatted to him to find out more about his time with us and some of his favourite experiences from the last two decades.
What did the Belgrade look like before you joined the Board?
In the 1990s, the area around the Belgrade was derelict. The upkeep of the Theatre was poor and so were the surroundings. At night it was dark, there was no lighting, and there was no food offer from the Theatre or from nearby restaurants. I was always a keen theatregoer but would regularly choose an evening at the RSC or the Hippodrome so that we could grab a bite to eat before the show.
How did you become involved with the Belgrade?
One day, I had a phone call out of the blue from somebody at the Arts Council who knew I was involved in property redevelopment and city centre regeneration. He asked me what I would do to improve the Belgrade. I knew that it wouldn’t just be a case of improving the Theatre, but also improving the surrounding area to produce a better offer both for people who lived in the city and also people from outside of Coventry. We discussed safer car parks, well-lit access areas and more restaurant facilities.
It wasn’t long after that that I was invited to join the Board of the Belgrade, shortly followed by chairman David Burbidge. It began with the Arts Council telling me I’d need to attend four meetings a year for three years… it’s turned into quite a lot longer than that!
Who else joined the Belgrade at that time?
Only a short time after we joined, David Burbidge and I were involved in interviewing new candidates for the roles of Artistic Director and Executive Director. I still remember interviewing Hamish and Joanna. With their experience in regenerating Dundee Rep, we knew they had what it took to oversee a significant city centre redevelopment project. Several other staff members from Dundee Rep joined Hamish and Joanna shortly after their appointment, including Co-Artistic Director for 2021, Justine Themen.
What was it like to be involved in two major redevelopments of the Belgrade?
It was a thrill to be involved in the 2007 redevelopment, which saw the creation of B2, and the 2020 redevelopment, which saw the refurbishment of the main auditorium and the expansion of the Belgrade Café and Nineteen 58 Bar.
I think my main skill there has been the ability to see the big picture and knowing what the right time was to undertake these redevelopments.
Knowing that we were UK City of Culture for 2021 and the important role the Belgrade played in achieving that status, I was confident that if we got the scheme underway and appointed a project manager (David Beidas), we’d be at the front of the queue to begin the project as soon as the funding became available.
I’m incredibly proud that we’ve been able to create a better theatre, an independent café and bar facility, and a better asset for the city centre.
What role have you played since you stepped down from the Board in 2011?
I’ve had the privilege of being part of the Communications Committee since stepping down from the Board. My daughter Becky, who is the Events Manager for Coventry City Football Club, was also on the committee, which was a real treat. We’ve both just stepped down from that role and I’m now an Honorary Ambassador for the Theatre.
Do you have any highlights from your time with us?
As I’m a huge supporter of Coventry City Football Club, I loved the production of We Love You City in 2010, written by Nick Walker. It was a celebration of the anniversary of CCFC winning the FA Cup, which happened under my chairmanship. The opening night was attended by members of the FA Cup winning team. It combined my two biggest passions outside of business: theatre and the football club.
What does the Belgrade mean to you?
The Belgrade has been like a second home to me. It’s like a grown-up toy set I get to play with, without actually having to own it. I’ve got all of the pleasure of being involved in the ambition of the theatre, without being involved at an executive level. I’m very proud that it’s part of Coventry.
What does the future of the Belgrade hold?
To me, the Belgrade is the jewel in Coventry’s crown. The legacy left by City of Culture is a much-improved theatre and city centre. It’s so vastly different from what it looked like 20 years ago.