Calls for urgent action to save Halifax theatre

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A COUNCIL is being urged to find a speedy solution to secure the future of a theatre which has hosted performances by the Beatles and The Jackson 5.

Victoria Theatre in Halifax, a grade II listed building which opened in 1901, is facing an uncertain future because of falling audience numbers and pressure on Calderdale Council budgets.

Councillors will tomorrow discuss a report into the theatre’s future which suggests it should be taken over by a charitable trust which will be able to access development grants needed to improve the 1,500-seat venue.

Members of a scrutiny panel will discuss a feasibility assessment carried out by The Sib Group which considers how the theatre can boost audiences and income.

The report says urgent action is needed to ensure the theatre can survive.

“In common with many theatres in the UK, its attendances have fallen during the recession with the annual average dropping by more than 10,000 in the last three years compared to the previous three years...the Theatre is not meeting the audience targets set by Calderdale Council and is currently unsustainable without significant grant funding from the council.

“The overall deficit continues to cast doubts over the sustainability of the Theatre and it seems inevitable that, if nothing is done, the Theatre will be unable to continue for long on the current basis.”

The report concludes that the best way forward is for the council to hand over ownership and management to a charitable company/trust.

This would open up alternative sources of funding, “be a catalyst” for creativity and protect the theatre as a community asset.

The report concludes: “Perhaps what is crucial is the need for an early indication of a way forward. The financial assessment strongly suggests the need for both short-term and medium-term strategies to address the serious issues now facing the Theatre.”

Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities, Cllr Steve Sweeney, said:

“The Victoria Theatre is a much-loved venue at the heart of our community, and a key part of our cultural heritage. We are facing significant budget pressures and want to secure the future of the theatre so it can continue to be enjoyed by current and future generations.

“We welcome the contribution of the Victoria Theatre Trust to the debate, including the options the Trust has put forward, to help us maintain the historic venue. The options were formed following thorough consultation with local and regional people and organisations. This consultation received nearly 1,500 responses from local people and I was delighted that over 92% of respondents found the visitor experience to be positive, and value the theatre as part of our cultural and tourism offer.

“The Communities Scrutiny Panel will consider the feasibility report and provide recommendations for Cabinet to consider on how we can make the most of the theatre for the benefit of local people.”