Beverley Picture Playhouse, Feasibilty Review, Alun Bond – Artservice
Beverley’s arts provision is varied. In particular the town’s festivals are a backbone of performing arts provision and cater both for local residents and visitors to the area. They attract specialist audiences and contribute to the town’s economy. Other provision includes local amateur performing societies and direct Council promotions.
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.
There is a need for 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 seating somewhere between 200 and 300. At present this is met by the Playhouse and the Memorial Hall, neither of which is adequate or fully fit for purpose.
East Riding of Yorkshire Council is developing proposals to build a new Music and Dance Centre on the Longcroft School site. This will provide a rehearsal and performance base for the Music Service and a concert hall seating up to 300 which will be available for community use. It is intended that the hall will also accommodate dance.
Though a valuable community facility, the hall will be a specialist music venue for the East Riding. Its prime purpose will be to accommodate educational and other specialist music activities. It is unlikely that it will meet the needs of all of Beverley’s festivals and performing arts groups.
Should this development proceed Beverley would then have a 400-seat venue, a specialist music venue, two venues seating between 200 and 300 and various other occasional spaces used for live arts events.
It would be logical to conclude that the town only requires one theatre space seating between 200 and 300 and that either the Memorial Hall or the Playhouse should fulfil that function. Though there might be some overlap between such a venue and the Music and Dance Centre, there are many functions which a flexible town centre space could undertake in addition to operating as an arts venue, which the Music and Dance Centre could not fulfil. For instance, the range of non-arts uses which the Memorial Hall currently meets.
Each venue has strengths and weaknesses but developing either will require substantial capital investment and revenue support. There are plans for re-developing the Memorial Hall, but no capital funding has been secured. At present there is no structure for taking forward a development of the Playhouse, and no revenue funding stream for the venue. This study has estimated that a minimum of £55,000 of annual subsidy would be required to operate the venue as an effective public arts and entertainment facility.
East Riding of Yorkshire Council has attempted to resolve the issue of the two venues by encouraging Beverley Town Council to transfer its activities to the Playhouse. However, the Town Council did not feel that this would meet its requirements as the Playhouse would not be large enough to accommodate the full range of activities envisaged in the Memorial Hall development scheme.
In our view one of these venues should be re-developed to provide a modern, fully-equipped, dedicated theatre performance space for Beverley, with facilities for meetings and rehearsals, but further work is required to assess the viability of each option and their relative financial merits (capital and revenue) before a final decision can be reached.
However, if the Playhouse were to be developed it would require structures for taking forward a development scheme, which do not exist at present. Furthermore, if East Riding of Yorkshire Council does not wish to commit capital or revenue funding towards the facility, it is difficult to see how it could operate viably as a public venue in the future.
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. 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.
On the other hand the Memorial Hall scheme offers the potential to bring together arts and community facilities in a single integrated building within a developing cultural quarter of the town. 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 – it is hard to see a more modest option providing what is required.
The town faces a difficult choice, as either option would result in the loss of one facility. Balancing emotional attachments to the Playhouse with the prospect of a re-developed Memorial Hall is not easy particularly given existing perceptions of each building. There is however 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.