Beverley Picture Playhouse, Planning Review, Alun Bond – Artservice.
Feasibility Study, planning for the future of Arts and Entertainment in the town of Beverley.
1. This review was commissioned by East Riding of Yorkshire Council to assist the Council in considering future options for the Beverley Picture Playhouse. A key aim of the Review was to consider the options for the Playhouse in the broader context of the town’s arts and entertainment facility needs and other planned developments, including plans to re-develop the Memorial Hall to provide a 240-seat theatre space and enhanced meeting and social facilities.
2. Beverley’s arts provision is varied and that the town’s festivals are a backbone of performing arts provision, catering both for local residents and visitors to the area. and contributing to the town’s economy. This diversity of provision is delivered through a range of venues appropriate to each festival and strand of activity, with certain festivals and activities relating strongly to individual venues. It is unlikely that any single venue would be able to accommodate all of the town’s performing arts venue requirements, therefore a variety of spaces will continue to be needed.
3. Some of the other occasional venues in the town are historic and the issue of access within the context of the Disability Discrimination Act, which comes fully into force in 2004, may limit their suitability for future public arts events, including festival events. This may in practical terms reduce the range of venues available in the town.
4. The Playhouse has had a troubled history in recent years and it has not proved possible to operate it on a commercial basis. This is not surprising in view of the condition of the building and its lack of facilities. It would however be unwise to conclude from previous experience that the venue could not play a part in the town’s arts and cultural provision in the future if it received adequate capital investment, though it would still be likely to require annual subsidy.
5. If the Playhouse were able to provide a more varied programme than in the past, with a more specialised film programme concentrating on second runs of mainstream films, classics and specialist films, a regular programme of live theatre, dance and music, greater use by local festivals and amateur groups and increased use for other purposes, such as rehearsals, seminars, meetings, presentations and talks, then it could still play a role in the town’s arts and entertainment provision.
6. However, if the Playhouse is to have a future as an arts and entertainment venue it would require major capital investment. An appropriate management arrangement would be required – this might be in the form of a charitable trust, and new income streams would need to be created, including a daytime catering facility.
7. The review concludes that the town needs a venue which can accommodate performances seating around 400 and the Longcroft Theatre meets this need. There is also a need for a smaller dedicated theatre space with a seating capacity of between 200 and 300 and that either the Playhouse or the Memorial Hall, neither of which is currently adequate or fully fit, for purpose could fulfil this function. Each venue has advantages and disadvantages and both would require substantial capital investment. At present capital funding sources have not been identified.
8. East Riding of Yorkshire Council is developing proposals to build a new Music and Dance Centre on the Longcroft School site providing a rehearsal and performance base for the Music Service and a concert hall seating up to 300 available for community use. Though a valuable community facility, the Centre will be a specialist music venue for the East Riding. Its prime purpose will be to accommodate educational and other specialist music activities and it is unlikely that it will meet the needs of all of Beverley’s festivals and performing arts groups.
9. The Picture Playhouse clearly has a strong following of people and performers who have enjoyed its unique atmosphere and experienced enjoyable and entertaining evenings at the venue. It is reported to have an excellent acoustic for live music and an ambience which performers respond to and enjoy. Its location in the town centre is part of ts appeal.
10. It has a variety of assets including its informal ambience and interior décor giving the building a unique period feel, its central location & accessibility to pubs and restaurants, good access to parking in the evenings, the atmosphere and acoustic of the auditorium and its proximity to transport links, including the railway and bus stations
11. However it also has a range of disadvantages including the lack of space for ancillary facilities, such as bar and catering, the poor state of repair, the low standard of facilities, and the very limited scope for extending the building due to its landlocked site. Furthermore the standard of the internal 1911 fit-out is not high and much of the internal structure which gives the Playhouse its special feel is of low grade. There are strong emotional ties to the Playhouse, but the building will only have a viable future if it is radically re-designed, which would in itself alter the character of the building.
12. Furthermore, in order to replace all of the Memorial Hall functions and provide the wider range of facilities which are envisaged, the Playhouse development would need to include the former swimming pool, which is currently unavailable. It also requires capital funding.
13. The Memorial Hall scheme offers the potential to bring together arts and community facilities in a single integrated building. But the current scheme must be considered speculative until capital funding can be identified and the level of funding required could prove prohibitive. It is difficult to see how the Hall could be improved to the standard required without a major scheme which radically changes the internal arrangements of the building.
14. The review concludes that either the Playhouse or the Memorial Hall should be re-developed to provide a modern, fully-equipped, dedicated theatre performance space for Beverley, with facilities for meetings and other activities, but further work is required to assess the viability of each option and their relative financial merits (capital and revenue) before a final decision on a preferred option can be reached.
15. The town faces a difficult choice and there is a real danger that Beverley could be left without either building being developed if the important issue of capital funding is not addressed by all parties as a matter of priority. It is essential therefore that the viability of the Memorial Hall scheme is tested out as soon as possible. If it does not prove achievable then the Playhouse could offer a more affordable option.