30 January 2024

Theatres Trust adds two buildings to risk register amid impact of ‘rising costs’

30 January 2024

Two buildings have been added to a register that highlights UK theatres under threat of closure, redevelopment or severe decay.

The Theatres Trust has announced that the Abbeydale Picture House in Sheffield and the Epstein Theatre in Liverpool have both been added to this year’s list.

The UK’s national advisory public body for theatres says various factors have made it difficult for the industry in recent years, including the cost-of-living crisis and economic barriers following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Director of the Theatres Trust, Jon Morgan, explained that “rising costs and scarcity of funding” has made it harder to repair buildings.

The trust said it has been unable to remove any of the buildings listed in the register this year “for positive reasons” such as revival following financial support from local communities.

Dudley Hippodrome is the only building that has been removed and this is because it was demolished in autumn 2023 to make way for a new university building.

This year the Grade II listed Abbeydale Picture House has been added as “its building fabric has significantly deteriorated in recent years, leaving its main auditorium unusable and the programming of this community arts venue unviable”, according to the Theatres Trust.

The theatre, built in 1920, was originally a cinema and also featured a ballroom and billiards hall.

It is currently in private ownership and Creative Arts Development Space (Cads), a Sheffield-based charity committed to revitalising local buildings for the arts, took over the lease in 2017 and reopened an event space, and a separate bar in the front of the building.

The Epstein Theatre was also added and it “faces an uncertain future”, according to the trust, after Liverpool City Council was unable to renew its lease of the building.

Epstein Entertainments Ltd operates the theatre on behalf of the council and it was forced to closed the building to the public on June 30 2023.

Liverpool City Council’s cabinet member for culture, councillor Harry Doyle, said: “We welcome the move to add The Epstein to the risk register as this offers renewed hope for this extraordinary space.

“In their role as intermediary, the Theatres Trust can now ensure there are productive conversations between the commercial landlord and any potential operators, with the shared ambition to find a positive solution which would see this important cultural asset reopening its doors.”

Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, who is a Theatres Trust ambassador, added: “Theatres are an essential part of our cultural life and bring so much to communities everywhere.

“I’m proud to support Theatres Trust in its mission to ensure these wonderful buildings survive for current and future generations to enjoy.

The changes to the Theatres at Risk Register represent the wider issues we are seeing across the theatre sector

Mr Morgan said: “The changes to the Theatres at Risk Register represent the wider issues we are seeing across the theatre sector.

“Squeezes on local authority budgets mean many are stepping away from or significantly reducing funding to theatres, while rising costs and scarcity of funding is making it harder to repair, maintain and update buildings.

“We believe that all of these buildings are worth the investment, not only as valuable social and cultural facilities but also for their potential contribution to wider placemaking and regeneration.”

Since the list began in 2006, more than 80 theatres have been restored, revived or had a suitable replacement built, according to the Theatres Trust.

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