WINCHESTER’s popular Hat Fair has joined forces with the city’s Theatre Royal.

The theatre’s board approved a merger with the festival and will take over general management, with Hat Fair staff moving in with them.

Hat Fair artistic director Kate Hazel, who remains creative boss, promised that the festival would not lose its unique edge.

She said: “The Hat Fair will remain in terms of the three-day showpiece in July. We are really excited about this year’s event and are at the centre of cutting-edge development.”

Theatre Royal director Mark Courtice said: “This is about the long-term future of both organisations rather than short-term answers to cuts.

“But this was also a fantastic opportunity to do all sorts of exciting things, and both our roles are to provide Winchester with the best performances inside and outside.”

The Hat Fair will now be able to offer year-round events, including a summer season from May to September, beginning with the Emerge Festival in May.